Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 12/7/11
The nightmare is starting all over again. Shoe-horning a 66-game NBA schedule into a four-month hole brings back gruesome and bitter memories of 1999. I was there in '99 and remember the devastation, the futility, the cries for mercy. But I was a beat writer covering the Los Angeles Clippers, and most of the aforementioned emotions were emanating from press row. With first-year coach Chris Ford presiding over a team whose go-to guy was Lamond Murray, I witnessed a post-lockout season that began with 17 consecutive defeats. The starting center was first overall draft pick Michael Olowokandi. One of his backups was Keith Closs, the only player who lost weight during the lockout. Oh, the humanity. It also should be noted that basketball wasn't exactly performed with textbook precision around the rest of the league, either. Without quoting metric chapter and verse, just know that NBA teams combined to average five fewer points per game ... which looked a lot uglier than it reads, trust me. Anyway, the league is shoving 66 regular-season (and ticket-selling) dates down our throats and hoping the caliber of play won't encourage us to jam steak knives in our eyes, preventing us from finding the concession stand and team shop. So, just how good are the chances of our season not turning into amateur hour at the rec center? Well, with sports science now 13 years more acquainted with advanced techniques of physical training and skill developmentmaintenance, I'm confident that players are better prepared for the grind. Being far more fit now should translate to more reasonably executed game plans than we witnessed in '99. For some qualified feedback, we checked with Steve Nash. Nash, when last seen hustling around NBA arenas, was a 37-year-old point guard who -- despite a nagging injury -- had enough left in his tank to keep the Phoenix Suns involved in a playoff chase they were unable to finish. As one of the league leaders in physical and nutritional awareness associated with longevity of professional athletes, Nash's opinion of this demanding schedule is worthy of soliciting. "I think everyone is going to be leery of it," Nash said of a schedule that offers less physical and mental recuperation time between games. "Four games a week is going to be tough for everybody." Will that cut into the per-game burn for Nash and some of his veteran superstar peers? "It depends," he said. "I imagine every team is going to have to pick their spots during the year to keep guys fresh." While self-anointed experts have posited that this mindbody challenge could wreck the seasons of the more veteran teams, young guns have been targeted as candidates to thrive. The list of really good teams with young veterans is short, but we find the Oklahoma City Thunder at the top. Thunder superstar Kevin Durant (now a spry 23 years old) isn't about to consider the back-to-back-to-back gauntlet (OKC has one of those) an advantage for himself and his bouncy teammates. "We did that last summer in the Olympics," he said, "and after that third game, I was drained. And I was playing only 25 minutes a game." OK, so with old players and young players treating the schedule with the energy-sapping respect it deserves, coaches aren't immune from being escorted beyond their comfort zones. "Now we have to play 66 games in 122 days," Denver Nuggets coach George Karl said. "It's kinda crazy." But beyond the potential substitution-pattern crises created by fatigue, coaches won't have much opportunity to tweak anything that receives less than adequate attention during the compressed preseason. For example, Karl pointed out that something as seemingly remedial as free-throw shooting became a late-season dilemma for last-season's Nuggets. Some coaches believe that by this point in a player's development, efficient free-throw shooting is the responsibility of the player. "I've always believed in repetitions," Karl, who doesn't mind setting aside some precious practice time for that purpose. "How do you get repetitions when they're tired or their shoulder hurts and needs rest? There's probably going to be a lot of soft practices in there. "At most, we're going to have 16 practices before we play a game. That's a ridiculously small amount of practices. Even when training camp lasts 28 days, I've said the first 10 to 15 games are still like training camp. This year, you might see training camp last into January." Another coach with lockout-specific issues to overcome is first-year Phoenix Suns assistant coach Elston Turner. All Turner has to do is improve the Suns' defense. Well, maybe the extended break allowed him to eyeball enough film to figure out just why the Suns haven't been very good at preventing the opposition from scoring. And having more time -- in theory -- provided him with an opportunity to be even better prepared, right? Well, not really. "It hurts," Turner said. "Implementing a new defensive system, you need the players in there. And they need time and reps. It (the shortened preseason) can affect that." OK, so the players and coaches may be physically, mentally, emotionally and even strategically compromised. But we haven't forgotten another subset of NBA worker whose life has been made even more difficult by the looming schedule. "Just the thought of preparing reports on teams when you're playing four or even five games in one week has turned the rest of my hair white," said an advance scout employed by an NBA team that probably wouldn't like to know its advance scout is whining. "The guys in the video room, as always, will be a big help in allowing the coaches to be prepared with such little lead time. But a big portion of having a scouting report on a team is being at games of our upcoming opponents and hearing the call names of sets they're running." Our advance-scout contributor pointed out that aligning calls to Xs and Os isn't that complicated using computer software, but the the travel and player-tendency details become an even bigger headache with 66 games in 122 days. "On the bright side," he said. "Having a high concentration of games against teams from within our own conference cuts down on the travel distances. So I do have that goin' for me." While things seem tough all over for NBA workers, we'll close with some perspective from Suns center Marcin Gortat. "That's going to be a challenge,obviously," Gortat said when asked about the tight schedule. "But I'd rather do that than sit at home and do nothing for six months. "It beats practice."
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