Schedule Breakdown 2016-17

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

Attention, Lakers fans: You can now plan the rest of your life!

The 2016-17 regular season schedule begins on Oct. 26 against Houston at Staples Center, and continues through April 12 at Golden State.

We’ve prepared our annual breakdown, detailing the nuts and bolts of the calendar and, this year, explaining what actually goes into planning for and executing 82 games and all the days in between through the expertise of the team’s head athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach, and equipment manager.

Here’s all you need to know and much more!

THE NUTS AND BOLTS:

Some details, folks:

  • - LAL play the Clippers at home on Christmas Day for the second straight year. You should wear Purple and Gold to the Lakers’ home game.
  • - L.A. will play 16 back-to-backs – which is the NBA average – two fewer than last season’s 18 B2B’s.
  • - The longest road trip this season is a 12-day Eastern trek from Dec. 12-23, which twists through seven cities and steals much of our last-minute-shopping time for the holidays.
  • - The longest home stand is also 12 days, occurring from March 17-28, featuring six games.
  • - As every NBA team does each year, L.A. plays four Western teams only three times apiece. HOU and OKC come to L.A. once, while LAL head to MEM and DEN just once.

A CHALLENGING START

Five of the first six teams L.A. starts the season against made the playoffs last year (HOU, OKC, IND, ATL and GSW), and the lone squad missing out, Utah, is poised for a potential run into the top four in 2016-17. Furthermore, four of those games are on the road, and the second home game is against a team that won 73 games last year and added Kevin Durant.

However, things balance out in the next six games, with DAL serving as the only playoff squad from 2015-16 with PHX, SAC, NOP, MIN and BKN rounding it out, representing perhaps the softest-on-paper stretch of the season.

MONTHLY BALANCE

Speaking of balance: that’s a good word for LAL’s 2016-17 schedule. Last year, it was heavily tilted towards road games early, and home games late, with 22 of the first 33 away from Los Angeles. This year, it’s 20 road games and 16 at home through Jan. 1, with a home-heavy March (9H, 5A) restoring the balance completely. The Lakers will close the season with 15 of their final 23 games at Staples Center.

LUKE!!!!

The person with the most control over how an NBA season goes once training camp starts is the head coach. With some input from management and staff, it’s the coach that decides when the team practices, what time the plane takes off for away games, where they stay and so on.

The coach also has a major impact on the reason everyone is here: winning and losing. Now, the Lakers want nothing more than to return to their championship ways. Having All-Star caliber players either emerge from their current group of talented young players or come to Los Angeles via trade or free agency may always be the best way to go about it … but could the hiring Luke Walton be what carries the movement?

The best way to summarize what’s happened amongst those in the team photo since Walton’s hiring: He’s completely united the group. The players love the culture that he’s set, and the staff loves his rare combo of being extremely competitive while still being laid back on a personal level. Luke has ‘em all on board.

He grew up with a Hall of Fame father, played for Hall of Fame coaches in Lute Olson and Phil Jackson and alongside Hall of Fame players like Kobe and Shaq, and coached under Steve Kerr, even leading the Warriors to a 39-4 mark last year in Kerr’s absence.

Walton, of course, will be tested, especially this season. He has a new system to install on both ends of the floor, and cohesion to build almost from scratch with a very young team, which typically don’t win a ton of games in the NBA. But how he establishes the culture of the group will impact the franchise for years to come, and his start has been promising.

In Las Vegas, where D’Angelo Russell shined, I asked the second-year PG about Walton. His eyes lit up, he smiled, and said, “Man I LOVE Luke!” Russell couldn’t wait to get to practice. Time will tell how this continues to develop as the Lakers tick off games on the schedule this year, but if you ask all the people around him, Walton is off to a good start.

FRESH, TIRED AND EVEN

The NBA started keeping “fresh, tired and even” stats for its teams to determine how many games a team has a rest advantage over their opponent. The Lakers come in at a -4.

They’ll have 10 games in which they did not play the day before and their opponent did (“fresh”), 14 games in which the Lakers are on a back-to-back but the opponent is not (“tired”), and 56 games in which both the Lakers and their opponent both played or both did not (“even”).

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN PURPLE AND GOLD:

Through the draft, free agency and a trade, the Lakers acquired five new players that will have a major impact on how the 82-game schedule plays out:

Brandon Ingram: The No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Ingram represents true hope for future stardom. No less authority on precocious talent than Kevin Durant said during Team USA camp that the 18-year-old out of Duke “reminds me of myself,” and is “a little farther along than I was at that stage.” And KD said it in a real convincing way – not just proverbial nice athlete-speak – backed up by breakdowns of Ingram’s skills. We, of course, need to pump the brakes a bit on the 6-foot-9 wing with crazy reach that still might be growing because, well, he’s 18. He’ll have ups and downs as a rookie, but you can’t credibly dispute his talent. (Quotes courtesy of Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver)

Ivica Zubac: The 19-year-old Bosnia-Herzegovina native who’s spent his last six years as a pro in Croatia could not have been a more pleasant surprise in the Las Vegas Summer League. All we knew about him on draft day was that the 7-footer was expected to be a first round pick, and the Lakers were thrilled he was there at No. 32. We now know that Zublocka has great hands and touch, is a smart defensive player who rotates well off the ball, can shoot with some range and run the floor hard. Plus, he is an absolute pleasure to be around who’s already beloved by his teammates, coaches and all the Lakers fans charmed by how thrilled he is to be wearing the jersey he grew up dreaming about. Like Ingram, he’ll have his ups and downs playing against vets, but the Lakers may have nailed yet another later pick just as they did with Jordan Clarkson (No. 46) and Larry Nance, Jr. (No. 27).

Timofey Mozgov: Here’s the big question for the man L.A. nabbed on the first night of free agency: Will he play like the quick-footed behemoth who was huge for Cleveland in the 2015 playoffs, or the one who had trouble getting off the bench in the 2016 playoffs? The 7-foot-1 Russian went for 10.6 points, 7.3 boards and 1.8 blocks in 20 postseason games in 26.5 minutes in 2015, before seeing just 5.8 minutes of run this past year. One clear explanation: Mozgov had offseason knee surgery following the 2015 run, and took a while to get back to speed in the regular season; meanwhile, the Cavs were going small with LeBron James at the four and Tristan Thompson at the five more often than not. Mozgov says he’s now healthy, and the Lakers are counting on a bounce-back season where he can both anchor the defense and batter his way into the paint on screen/roll action with D’Angelo Russell.

Luol Deng: For the first time in his 13-year NBA career, the 31-year-old Deng won’t be wearing red. Known for successful stints in Chicago and Miami (and 40 games with Cleveland in 2013-14), he averaged 12.3 points and 6.0 boards plus 1.0 steals with the Heat in 2015-16. He played a lot of stretch four for Miami once Chris Bosh went down, and shot 42.1 percent from three in 14 playoff games. It’s important to recognize the value Deng – long known as a positive role model and proverbial locker room presence – brings to the young Lakers, and particularly to Ingram. Deng, in fact, mentioned how focused he is on helping fellow Dukie Ingram grow in his first interview in Los Angeles (with Time Warner Cable SportsNet’s Chris McGee) … even if he’s keeping Ingram out of the starting line up at the beginning of the season.

Jose Calderon: In a savvy move, the Lakers used Chicago’s need to clear space to sign Dwyane Wade to snatch Calderon, plus two second round picks. Pau Gasol’s Spanish buddy – who’s just as nice of a guy – has played 11 years in the NBA, with career averages of 9.9 points and 6.5 dimes, and is an excellent shooter from range with a 41.2 percent success rate from deep (41.4 percent last year as the starter for the Knicks). We’ll see what the 34-year-old has to offer, but he certainly seems capable of being an effective backup guard and resource for D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson.

FOOD ON THE PLANE

The Lakers have made a deliberate effort to provide healthy food options for their players at all times, whether at the team’s practice facility, at the arena before games or on the road, and even on the plane. The team has partnered with a grocery store chain in recent years to cater meals on the road.

Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco is in charge, and he’s constantly tweaking things to benefit the players, first and foremost, and the rest of us in the travel group by extension.

“It’s a trial and error process, but I use the flight attendants and flight crew for feedback after every flight to figure out the best formula,” said DiFrancesco. “As the season goes on, I’m able to more specifically refine the menu to fit the specific group that we have. It’s always a balance between the healthiest food available and simply food that people want to eat.”

When the team boards the plane, either to head to a city on the day before a game (flights take off anywhere from 10 a.m. for an East coast flight to 2 or 3 p.m. for a Western trek) or after the game (often leaving at midnight), DiFrancesco has to account for hot and cold appetizers, three different entrees and two sides plus desert for 50-60 people.

“Sometimes, when you’ve just finished a 16-hour day, you want a bit of comfort food – I don’t care who you are,” he explained. “But one of our main approaches with the food is to have healthy options there as often as we can for everybody on the plane to make a choice. We recognize it’s not going to be all the time, but it’s important to have the option.”

The biggest challenge for many of us in the back of the plane is to get to the food before Mychal Thompson, who grabs trash bags and throws in a wide variety of items to crush in the hotel room he’s unlikely to leave.

ROAD WORKOUTS

When the team is on the road, it’s always a challenge to get the players on a regular practice and work out routine, as there are so many more points of variance than there are at home. For DiFrancesco, it takes a lot of planning to maximize the efficiency.

“It’s always about figuring out what the hotels are like, because if we’ve been there before, I know what type of equipment I’m working with, and how that can work with specific players,” he said. “If we’re in a new spot, I have to be aware and do some research so that when we arrive.”

Tim D. keeps detailed notes for each Laker, often in more detail the younger the guy is and thus the more guidance that may be required. He’ll pay particular attention to Ingram and Zubac this season, and make sure he’s available to get individual sessions in around the team schedule at the road hotels and opposing team facilities to which L.A. may have access.

Sidenote: My parents typically come and stay with me in one road city each year, and it’ll be hard for my mom to beat an occasion in Chicago in which Kobe said hi to her in the hotel weight room. But I’m sure she’d settle for a convo with Zubac in between bench press sets -- this guy is the best, I’m telling you!

PACKING THE LAKERS

Everybody works hard amongst the traveling staff from the players to the coaches to the trainers and broadcast crews, but one man is particularly appreciated: equipment manager Carlos Maples.

‘Los, who doesn’t get days off, is the guy that keeps the operation moving. He orders, organizes, preps, washes and maintains the equipment for all 15 players on the roster, plus the gear worn by the coaches and support staff. Of paramount importance in getting through the schedule is organization, and Maples runs a tight ship.

“Pretty much everything the players wear I have backups for,” he told us. “I’m always prepared for the worst, and the backup gear is always at the arena. That takes a lot of effort, planning and knowing your personnel as to who likes what and when. I have a system, but I have to adapt to the guys as well.”

Maples, who’s been with the Lakers since 1986, was of course there for every one of Kobe’s 20 seasons. He knew exactly what Bryant needed. He knew how many pairs of shoes Bryant liked kept around, what he wore for his pregame workout, how often he needed replacements for his tights, what kind of wristbands he required and so on. Maples now needs to figure out how 18-year-old rookie Brandon Ingram or 31-year-old Luol Deng likes their gear.

For road trips, Maples starts packing days in advance. He’ll often have as many as 43 bags, one exclusively for the tons of gum that the players chew during practices and games. Sometimes he’ll have to bring a full extra set of uniforms if the players are wearing white or black alternates. He packs warmup pants, jackets, and shooting shirts of all sizes — anything that players may wear. And he must have a bunch of shoes.

“You have the pair of shoes per player that they wear in a gigantic bag, and then there’s another bag full of brand new shoes in case a guy blows out a shoe or just wants a fresh pair,” Maples detailed. “Some guys want more shoes than others.”

High-maintenance players may want a brand new pair of tights every few games, while low-maintenance guys don’t bug Maples as much. But everybody needs socks.

“I have socks for days on the road,” he said. “That’s the one thing in this sport – I even have a really large, custom-made sock bag. There are all these different styles of socks, with quarter-length XL, quarter-length XXL and so on. I keep a dozen in each style, of which there are four.”

For a long trip like L.A.’s 12-day December Eastern trek, Maples will bring around 100 brand new pairs of socks.

If one of us broadcasters forgets to bring a t-shirt to work out in on a trip, guess who gets the call? Of course, those of us that aren’t playing in the actual games try hard not to bother ‘Los … as you’ve seen, the last thing he needs is yet another request added to his ridiculous schedule.

LAKERS’ FOOD CRITIC

One of the first things that those of us regular travelers do upon looking at the schedule is figure out the cities in which we’ll have off nights. We like to see where we’ll have the chance for a sit down meal.

My wife is always encouraging me to branch out and find some new places in given cities, but I’ll typically defer to the vets like Ireland, John Black or Bill Macdonald that go to some of the same (but knowingly excellent) places every season. In fact, I look forward to going to certain cities just because I’m excited to return to a specific restaurant. (Bonus: by being the youngest of the traveling crew, I’m often the beneficiary of a bill being picked up by always generous Billy Mac or Ireland).

Now, if you need a restaurant review in an NBA city, no need to search the “New Yorker”, since the Lakers VP of Public Relations, Black, has been attentively ranking road restaurants since the 1980’s. We asked him for some hot spots on the longest trip of the season, a 12-day December trek through SAC, BKN, PHI, CLE, CHA, MIA and ORL.

In Black’s words:

  • SAC: Best I've found in Sacramento is a chain, which I typically try to avoid, but Il Fornaio is solidly good.
  • BKN: Since we actually stay in Manhattan, I'll give you my all-time favorite New York restaurant, Lusardi's ... although I could give you several other great spots in America's greatest restaurant city.
  • PHI: I'll stick with Davio's ... not only my favorite Philly restaurant*, but one of my favorites anywhere. *Editor’s Note: Our Spanish TV studs, Adrian Garcia Marquez and Francisco Pinto, often take us to a terrific Mexican spot called Tequilas Catrines.
  • CLE: Although some people might find it hard to believe, there are several excellent spots, but easily my favorite is Blue Point Grill ... food, atmosphere and service all are exceptional.
  • CHA: As with Sacramento, I haven't found a favorite standalone restaurant, so I like to go to Capital Grill. Although a chain, they consistently are among my favorites of the steak restaurant chains.
  • MIA: Miami has as a couple I really like (and beware taking the advice of most people's "favorite", which is one of the most overrated restaurants in America ... I won't tell you the name in the interest of avoiding a slander suit), but the place that I think is a great restaurant is Il Gabbiano.
  • ORL: If you're willing to risk your life by leaving the hotel to fend off reptiles and insects, I'd suggest Kres Chophouse.

PLANNING THE TRAVEL SCHEDULE

Quite a bit of work goes into getting an NBA team ready for 41 road games, and the person in charge is typically the head athletic trainer. With Gary Vitti’s retirement after 30-plus years, his talented former assistant trainer Marco Nunez steps into Vitti’s big shoes.

We spoke to Nunez to get some details about the schedule.

On arranging the hotels: As soon as the schedule is announced, (Lakers front office staffers) Kristen (Luken), Tania (Jolly), the head coach and myself sit down and first figure out the hotels that we want to stay. There are different factors that are considered for the location. The first tends to be the distance between the hotel and the arena, second is usually the head coach’s preference. Other factors include: easy accessibility for the bus; safety issues; or amenities such as restaurants that are located near the hotel.

On scheduling travel time: Next, we figure out the arrival and departure times to the cities. For example, when we leave Los Angeles for a destination we have to take into consideration the time of flight and the time change. Also, we try to avoid arriving in a city during rush hour. When we are leaving a city after a game and moving on to a different city, other factors are considered, such as the time that we may arrive at our new destination. For example, we try to avoid arriving after 3 a.m. in a new destination. As far as transporting the players to and from practices, safety and quick access ability are the main priorities.

On his additional responsibilities with Vitti’s retirement: Now that I'm the head athletic trainer, all previous responsibilities that Gary had pretty much fall on me. My job is to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible … which we all know that never happens. I have to make sure that everything is set up and ready go such as the bus departure times, team meals, flight departures, flight arrivals, hotel setups and more. My job is also to make sure that everyone knows where to go and what time they need to arrive. For example, just like I would send (us staffers) a text during Summer League to inform you of the schedule; during the season I send a group text to three or four different groups: coaches, players, training staff and media. The reason for this is that not everyone needs to know the same info, and meeting times can be different for each group.

On this season’s travel schedule: It looks like there is a lot of cross-country travel. With the exception of last year's December schedule, this year's schedule seems to be more grueling.

MORE GRUELING, INDEED

Last year, the Lakers traveled 44,992 miles, which was only about 1,000 more than the team with the lowest number (43,832). But this season, L.A. will log 52,316 air miles, which is more than roughly three-quarters of the NBA. Now, it’s not quite the particularly harsh 2014-15 campaign (55,000 miles), but it’s not ideal.

As Nunez mentioned, there are many trips that have long east-to-west flights home, flights that are less efficient than those trips that have centrally located games in between east and west. For example, L.A. will fly from ATL to LAX on Nov. 2, to HOU and back on Dec. 7, from ORL to LAX on Dec. 23, to OKC and back on Feb. 24 and to Minnesota and back on March 30. Typically, the NBA might try and put the OKC and Minnesota trips on one combined two-game trip, instead of making each one an individual journey.

CAN’T MISS ‘EM

  1. Nov. 4 vs. GSW: My birthday! Either that, or Kevin Durant’s Staples Center debut as a Warriors wing should get you psyched…
  2. Dec. 16 at PHI: No. 1 pick Ben Simmons against No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram for the first time in the regular season (LAL won the matchup in Vegas on D’Angelo Russell’s buzzer-beating 3).
  3. Dec. 25 vs. LAC: Can the Lakers break up a Clippers winning streak in the matchup on Christmas Day?
  4. Feb. 3 at BOS: The Lakers have had success at Boston of late, winning two of the last three in the house of their chief rival.
  5. March 19 vs. CLE: LeBron and the defending champs come to Los Angeles for the only time.
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