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Will the NBA allow enough time with the restart of games to avoid injuries?

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It finally happens — the NBA returns. The coronavirus forced stoppage ends and the NBA races into action. As quickly as they can teams gather in a “bubble” in Las Vegas, players are on the court in games televised across the nation and streamed around the world. The NBA’s elite are back and thrown into a condensed playoff format…

Then in the first game a superstar player goes down with a torn ACL.

Just a few games later, another is sidelined with a strained quad. Another player suffers a torn meniscus. The injuries quickly start piling up.

It’s the scenario that is keeping NBA athletic trainers and staffs up at night.

“We call it spiking the workloads, you never want to go from zero to 100, that’s when you see a lot of injuries,” one team’s strength and training coach told NBC Sports, speaking on the condition of anonymity [his team did not want this discussed]. “You’re going to need a slow ramp-up. How slow it is going to be somewhat limited, with everyone wanting to get things going.”

As the NBA and its fans dream of returning to play, the league must find a balance. When the NBA restart happens, there will be a rush to move fast and get games going, but move too fast and it could lead to injuries. Guys need time to get back into game shape.

Any athlete at any level will tell you: working out in a gym is not game shape. For the NBA, the consequences of moving too fast could devastate some players and teams.

How long a runway into games will teams need before they can play?

“I think it’s going to take time… Realistically three weeks, four weeks would be ideal, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” one strength trainer said.

Other training staff polled seem to expect two-three weeks, with games of some form — maybe some regular season games, perhaps just exhibitions — as part of that. The league itself is not discussing publicly the return — there are too many variables in play to make predictions — but sources said a training camp is factored into the equation.

Just having the games is critical.

“Conditioning is a primary reason for pre-season exhibition games… live game speed simulation remains ideal,” said Javair Gillett, Director of Athletic Performance for the Houston Rockets.

Knowing they could return to work at any time, NBA players are trying to work out at home — and team strength and conditioning staffs are using new technology to help out with that. Everyone understands that whenever the suspension is lifted, things are going to move fast.

That short window has players from playoff-bound teams seeming a little more focused than those who are near the start of their off-season (and may not play again this season).

“As we’ve been preaching and saying around our team, amongst coach, we want to win the wait,” the Clippers’ Paul George said on the team’s Instagram feed. “When this thing gets back going, we want to be the team that’s in the best shape and ready to go.”

“Guys know that they won’t be able to use games to play themselves into shape,” Gillett said of the Rockets. “So if we continue the season, the hope and expectation is that we see guys returning with a higher level of fitness than the state they typically return in at the onset of a full season…

“We know where we’re at in the season, what’s on the line, what’s at stake, with that in mind our players are very motivated because there’s still that end goal in sight, to win a championship.”

Technology helps training staffs push their players in ways they couldn’t have years ago.

Gillet and the Rockets are among the franchises using Teambuildr, an app and website site where staff can plan, track, and demonstrate through videos how to do remote workouts. It allows the staffs to design and modify workouts for each player individually. In the NBA alone Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Minnesota, and Detroit use the site, as do teams in the NFL, NHL, and MLB.

“Technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, we’ve gotten to the point teams can present their programs online or through apps,” Gillett said, adding it makes it easier for players to follow along and stick with a program.

Other teams have gone different directions.

“The players had bikes and weights delivered to their homes,” Brad Stevens said of the Celtics. “We’ve had some voluntary strength and conditioning sessions.”

The Warriors’ players have been doing group Peleton classes.

One challenge is simply nobody knows what the timeline of a return will be.

“Like the rest of the country, they don’t know when they are going to go back to work,” Gillett said.

Another challenge has been the limited equipment some players have available to work out with in their home. Highly-paid players and ones that live in bigger homes in the market (often veterans with families) may have impressive workout facilities in their houses. Even among those players, having half-a-court to practice shooting is rare. Stephen Curry didn’t have one.

It’s even harder for younger players and guys living in apartments, they had very limited tools.

“Their homes aren’t equipped with a lot, so we tried to communicate with them on an individual basis and address individual needs as best we can,” Gillett said of the Rockets’ approach. “In the offseason we send guys home with a care package, a duffel bag of items we feel is necessary, that we know is going to be part of their program. I think in this case it’s no different, we’re trying to provide some things we know they may not have at their home.”

Even for the teams taking their suspension workouts seriously, nobody is going to be in game shape.

“It is very difficult to maintain basketball, NBA level conditioning, without playing games… the volume, the intensity, the stress levels all come into play and it’s very difficult to replicate,” the Rockets’ Gillett said. “Which is why we’re stressing [to players] you have to maintain a certain level of fitness so that when you are to return it’s not going to take a long time to get you back into basketball shape.”

There will need to be games when the league returns, which is one reason for the discussion of playing some regular season games upon the league’s return. Even if the long hiatus forces the NBA to jump almost directly to the playoffs, there will need to be some exhibition games to get guys ready.

“I feel no matter what guys are doing, unless they have a court in their house, or access to a court, they’re just not going to be ready physically to handle the stress that a player goes through during the game,” one trainer told NBC Sports. “Then you add to that it could be right into the playoffs, and that’s an added stress.”

And that added stress could lead to injuries the NBA desperately wants to avoid.

Gregg Popovich had reservations, sees bubble as safest place to be

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Gregg Popovich fondly remembers his freshman year at the United States Air Force Academy, even though as a first-year cadet he was extremely limited in where he could go and what activities were allowed.

Lockdown at Walt Disney World, he said, reminded him of those days.

“But two days, anybody can do that,” the San Antonio coach said Saturday.

He made it through that freshman year with ease, made it through the two days of in-room Disney quarantine as well, and now the longest-tenured and oldest active coach in the league is free to roam within the NBA bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have reservations about being part of the NBA restart, given the ongoing issues of racial strife, social inequality, and the coronavirus pandemic.

“If you’re thinking person, you’re going to look at all sides of a situation,” Popovich said. “And, especially being 71 years old, I thought, ‘Is this where I want to spend a lot of my time, doing this, under these circumstances?”‘

The answer was yes, and Popovich was running his first practice in more than four months Saturday as the Spurs began getting ready for a playoff push. When the season resumes July 30, San Antonio will be 12th in the Western Conference – only a half-game from ninth, where the Spurs would have to be and within four games of the No. 8 spot to force their way into a play-in series.

“I honestly do believe – it’s not just being a loyal soldier of the NBA, I’ve done my share of criticizing here and there when I thought it was necessary – I don’t know where else you would be as safe as we are right now,” Gregg Popovich said.

LeBron James completely agrees with that sentiment.

Like the Spurs, the Los Angeles Lakers – the West leaders, with James leading the way back into title contention after six consecutive years of not even making the playoffs – took to the Disney practice courts for the first time Saturday. And James said the notion of not being part of the restart “‘never crossed my mind.”

“This beautiful game of basketball, that brings so many people together, that brings happiness, that brings joy to the households, to so many families … I’m happy to be a part of the biggest sports in the world,” James said. “And I’m happy to have a platform where not only people will gain joy from the way I play the game, from the way our team plays the game, but also from what I’m able to do off the floor as well.”

And on the health standpoint, James, like Popovich, raved about what NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and many others teamed together to make happen at Disney.

“They took all precautionary reasons, measures to make sure that we as a league are as safe as we can be,” James said. “Obviously, in anything that you do, there can be things that could happen, but we will cross that line if it happens.”

But Popovich’s age called into question whether he should be at the restart.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people 65 and over can be more vulnerable to the virus. The NBA has three head coaches who have celebrated that birthday; New Orleans’ Alvin Gentry, 65; Houston’s Mike D’Antoni, 69, and Popovich. Pelicans assistant Jeff Bzdelik, 67, and Los Angeles Lakers’ assistant Lionel Hollins, 66, are not at Disney for the restart.

“We have special guidelines and special things that we have to abide by,” Spurs forward Rudy Gay said. “I think going into this bubble, everybody has to take the proper precautions and do their own part … not just our team, but other teams. It’s definitely serious. It’s a serious issue. But we vow to do the right thing.”

Popovich points to rising virus numbers in Texas as proof that on the NBA campus, where players and coaches will be tested daily and exposure to the outside world is basically cut off, his health shouldn’t be more at risk.

And to him, this is much more than basketball. The NBA restart will be about raising awareness on social issues and combating racism, and Gregg Popovich wants to be a big part of that conversation.

“If this bubble works, I’m safer here than I would be in Texas,” Popovich said. “And since the decision was made to do this to start the season again, under these circumstances, with all the precautions, what a great opportunity.”

 

Home to three Pistons titles, the Palace of Auburn Hills demolished

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — One of Michigan’s most beloved sports and entertainment venues was turned into rubble on Saturday with a series of controlled explosions.

The shell and roof of the Palace of Auburn Hills, which was home to three championship Detroit Pistons teams and three Detroit Shock teams and played host to some of the world’s biggest musical acts during its nearly 30-year run, crumbled to the ground following a series explosive pops.

The rest of the arena had already been removed.

The Palace, which opened in 1988, held more than 22,000 people for NBA games and up to 23,000 for concerts and other shows, according to nba.com.

After the Pistons relocated in 2017 to downtown Detroit, the arena about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of the city continued to host concerts and music events, the last in September 2017 by rocker Bob Seger.

It also became the second suburban Detroit arena that found little real use after its main sports tenant took its games back to the city.

The Detroit Lions played at the nearby Pontiac Silverdome from 1975-2001 before moving to Ford Field in Detroit. The Pistons also called the Silverdome home for a decade before The Palace opened.

The Silverdome was taken down with a partial implosion in 2017.

William Hall, a project manager for Schostak Brothers & Co., told the Oakland Press of Pontiac that the Palace site should be cleared of debris by the end of the year.

A new mixed-use development project is planned for the site.

“There have been some companies we’ve already talked to about possible development of the property,” Hall said. “I would say we’ve had conversations with at least half-a-dozen people. This property is very interesting and for a lot of businesses, its proximity is very attractive.”

No social justice message, LeBron James going with his last name on jersey

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The NBA curated list of social justice messages players could put on the back of their jerseys didn’t resonate with everyone.

Add LeBron James to that list. He told reporters Saturday as the Lakers headed into their first practice he was going to go with his last name — “James” — on the back of his jersey. Just as it would be for a typical game.

“[The choices] didn’t seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.” 

LeBron James didn’t like not being consulted on the jersey list, and he is not alone. Some players felt the list was a little too “corporate approved” and wanted to go with the names of victims or other things that did not get the NBA’s stamp of approval.

Of course the NBA — a multi-billion dollar international business — is going to put together a list that doesn’t step over the line with parts of its core audience. The list may bother some outside the core demographic, or people just trying to score cheap political points, but it’s a safe play with the heart of the NBA’s audience. Maybe a little too safe for some.

LeBron looked at the NBA’s game and decided the only winning move is not to play. He’s got other games he needs to focus on more.

Boston ‘going to move very slowly’ with Kemba Walker return to play

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For Boston and Kemba Walker, the target is the playoffs, not the eight seeding games running up to the postseason.

Which is why the Celtics are going to be cautious with Walker and his troublesome left knee, do a little load management early, and target the postseason for him to go all out, coach Brad Stevens told reporters, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“We’re going to move very slowly with Kemba Walker and let him strengthen (the left knee),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens following the team’s first practice in Orlando, Fla. on Friday. “And make sure that he’s all good to go as we enter the seeding games and obviously, the playoffs.”

Stevens suggested a minutes limit for Walker during the seeding games.

Walker missed 14 games this season and lingering left knee soreness was an issue — the team was already looking at getting him time off before the coronavirus put the season on hold. Walker said last week that four-month break gave his knee time to heal up and get healthy. Like a lot of players, Walker is eager to get back at it.

Stevens is smart easing Walker back into action, there is no need to push things. Boston needs Kemba Walker in the playoffs, the seeding games are not as vital (Boston just needs to not give up te 2.5 games to Miami and slide out of the three seed).

The Celtics enter the Orlando restart bubble as maybe the biggest threat in the East to Milwaukee. They bring an athletic and switchable lineup (Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward, with Marcus Smart off the bench) that was top five in the league defensively and can score. There is a lot to like if the Celtics can get their rhythm back, and if Tatum can keep up the All-NBA level of play he had the last month or so of the season.

Boston also will need a healthy Kemba Walker or that. So he will get eased back into play.