From a traveling standpoint, leaving town on a road trip will be a lot different for NBA teams this season. And in a way, a part of their traveling itinerary will resemble Major League Baseball.
Instead of NBA teams hopping around the country – and in Toronto – to play games, there will be various situations where they’ll remain in the same city and play the same team twice in three days. Or in the case of Los Angeles and New York, teams may stay in those cities and play the Lakers and Clippers on the same trip to LA, and play the Knicks and Nets on the same trip to New York.
The new scheduling is the NBA’s way of cutting down on traveling as much as possible in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dallas Mavericks are going through the new-look schedule right now. Dallas arrived in Milwaukee on Friday, won its preseason opener over the Bucks on Saturday, 112-102, and remained in Milwaukee in preparations for Monday’s game against the Bucks.
That type of scheduling has rarely happened in the NBA. Then again, a worldwide health crisis has altered the course of sports in general and the NBA in particular.
“There are some elements to this that are just clearly different,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Unless you’re playing in a playoff series you virtually never travel to one city to play two games in three days, and that will happen quite frequently this year. You set up in a city somewhat similar to baseball, and it’s a different kind of challenge.
“It’s a different kind of challenge because three (and) three-and-a-half days in a city that’s not your own (city) is a long time. It’s very unusual for NBA travel. This is something that we’ve got to get a mental edge about. As much as we miss being home and (miss) our love ones, we’ve got to keep our focus on Game Two (against the Bucks).”
Carlisle pointed out that staying in one city to play two games has its advantages.
“I think the other thing that could be challenging really across the board in the league is kind of the getaway game mentality,” he said. “After the (first) game we aren’t rushing to get on a plane. You can come back (to the hotel) and get a good night’s sleep.
“There are advantages, but there are some different elements and some different challenges to it as well. NBA teams aren’t used to staying in the same city for three-to-four days. There’s usually a day-and-a-half or two days at the most (in one city), and then you’re moving on.”
During the first half of the upcoming regular season, the Mavs will find themselves in two situations where they’ll be in the same city to play two games on the same road trip. On Dec. 25 the Mavs will play the Lakers in Los Angeles and remain there and play the Clippers on Dec. 27.
And on Jan. 27 the Mavs will face the Jazz in Utah, and remain in Salt Lake City and play the Jazz again on Jan. 29. Also, the Mavs will host the Phoenix Suns at American Airlines Center on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, and entertain the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 4 and Feb. 6.
“It’s different because obviously we’re not moving around and going out to eat and stuff like that,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said. “We’ve got to wait until we get our rapid (coronavirus) test in the morning to even go hang out with other guys.
“Right now they’ve got the movie theater open (in the hotel), so we just go down there and watch some football and just try to enjoy each other’s company.”
Carlisle noted that there are other advantages to staying in the same city to play two games in three days.
“Advantages — you don’t have to travel,” he said. “Advantages — you get to do NBA basketball for a living. That’s pretty good. And the other advantage here (in Milwaukee) is they’ve got a really good pizza place downstairs.”
Defense was stout: In their first game after placing a high priority on defense in training camp, the Mavs held the high-flying Milwaukee Bucks to just 102 points, and 40.4 percent shooting from the field and only 23.7 percent shooting (9-of-38) from 3-point territory.
So, how did that look not only from the sidelines, but also in the film room?
“Defensively, we did some very good things,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s hard to play a perfect defensive game in the NBA, but we did a lot of solid things. It’s pretty clear that we should be a better defensive team, but we’re going to keep working.”
The Bucks have a high octane offense, and also have a trio of the NBA’s top-flight players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. The Mavs couldn’t ask for a better opponent to measure just where they are defensively this early in the preseason.
“This is a great test for us trying to keep Giannis out of the lane and trying to keep Middleton from getting easy looks,” Carlisle said. “And Holiday’s a great player, and these guys really execute their offense.
“We can do some things better, but overall we’re looking to do things better on both sides of the ball in Game 2.”
Forward Dorian Finney-Smith praised the defensive efforts of Maxi Kleber on Antetokounmpo, and also the defensive performances by Josh Richardson, Trey Burke and rookie Josh Green.
“This year we definitely have some great pieces defensively,” said Finney-Smith, who also is a defensive stalwart. “Maxi can guard one through five, I can guard one through five, J-Rich is flying around — he can press guards.
“It was fun out there being able to just talk through switches and being able to trust that they’re going to be able to guard (their) matchup, and you ain’t got to worry about nobody running off a whole bunch of points. It’s been fun playing with this group of guys so far. We’ve got great team chemistry going right now.”
All bubbles aside, baby on the way for Finney-Smith: Although the Mavs played inside the bubble in Orlando last summer mostly without fans, Saturday’s preseason opener in Milwaukee was different because it was a much larger arena with no fans.
So, from a player’s perspective, was there any decidedly difference?
“It was a little strange, but it kind of felt like a bubble,” forward Dorian Finney-Smith said after Sunday’s practice. “The team with the loudest bench – the guys who are in to it – kind of got the most momentum.
“So that’s all we’ve got to do coming this season is everybody be into the game because that’s who we’ve got to get our energy from.”
As far as what extra precautions he and his teammates have to take since teams are not inside a bubble, Finney-Smith said: “You’ve got to be safe, including my family. I told them what’s going on, so they know.
“Plus, my girlfriend is pregnant, so she ain’t going nowhere for a long time. I don’t do nothing but play the game, so we should be pretty good on that.”