The Miami Heat just wrapped up two consecutive days of practice, which is significant for this reason: It might not happen again for a while.
How long? March isn’t out of the question.
Practice time is something that will be in short supply around the NBA this season; teams are basically playing every other day, and that — along with travel and mandated days off — realistically leaves time for no more than two practices per week. Given that teams also had fewer preseason games than usual along with shorter training camps, there just hasn’t been as much time to teach and ease into a year as most coaches would like.
And the hectic pace is pretty much going to last all season.
“I think you need to adjust and at least we’re all on an even playing field, so it’s all relative,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “If you have a day in between, you still have an opportunity to improve. And it might not be a training-camp practice, but you can get some things accomplished even when you have games. Just have to balance everything.”
The Heat just finished their longest break of the first half — three full days off, sandwiched between a Christmas game against New Orleans and the start of a home back-to-back against Milwaukee that begins Tuesday. For comparison’s sake, Miami has a four-game trip in early January during which it will practice no more than once.
They’re not alone. Every team in the NBA will have similar practice quandaries, which comes with the territory of having plenty of four-game weeks. It could be argued that without a lot of practice time, getting off to good starts — like Cleveland and Orlando, both of whom are 3-0 — might be of even more importance this season.
“It’s good for a couple of reasons,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Obviously, you want to take the wins as you can. But what it does is, in a time of growth, it gives you belief. And when they find success and the ultimate success for us is wins, that gives guys faith in what we’re doing.”
The Cavaliers have gotten it done so far with veteran big men and a young backcourt proving to be a good mix. The Magic are following a similar blueprint; point guards Markelle Fultz and Cole Anthony are combining to average nearly 30 points per game so far. And without an abundance of practice time to clean up matters, getting wins into the bank early is a big deal for Orlando.
“We don’t have two days off again until Feb. 3,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “We’ll be able to practice some and we’ll be able to do some shootarounds, but you want to have the right energy and intensity for the games. So, practice time is going to be limited.”
New Orleans coach Stan Van Gundy has a smart way to look at the issue: Why, he wonders, should the opportunity to improve only come from practice?
His perspective: Games are practice as well.
“You should be getting better as games go on if you have a focus,” Van Gundy said. “I’m no different than any other coach. All of us would probably like to get more practice time. It’s not there, and so you have got to get better in games, you have to get better in your walkthroughs, and you have to get better in everything you do.”
Golden State’s Kelly Oubre Jr. has seven field goals so far this season, with six dunks and one putback that he probably wanted to dunk before the ball skidded off the front of the rim and wound up going in anyway.
He’s 0 for 33 on everything else.
Oubre became the first player in NBA history to go 0 for 17 (or worse) from 3-point range in his team’s first three games of the season. The previous mark for 3-point, first-three-game futility was 0 for 13 by Allen Iverson in 2002. Iverson missed his first 19 3’s that season, stretching into the first quarter of game No. 7.
“Kelly’s shooting struggles right now aren’t that surprising, and I know it’s going to turn,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Every time I went to a new team in my career it was very difficult to find comfort in my shots in the early going.”
Kerr wasn’t kidding. Some examples from the sharpshooter who won five NBA titles as a player: He shot 38% in his first seven games after joining Cleveland in 1989, 19% on 3’s in his first 34 games after joining Orlando in 1992 and had a 7-for-23 slump early in his Chicago tenure in 1993.
It’s rare that a team loses by more than 50 points; Dallas’ 51-point win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday marked the 37th time in NBA history that such a margin — or worse — existed at the final buzzer.
Here’s an even weirder quirk: Four of the last five such wins have come by road teams.
Chicago beat Milwaukee 120-66 in 2015, San Antonio beat Philadelphia 119-68 later that year, Boston won in Chicago 133-77 in 2018 and then Dallas won big in L.A. on Sunday. (The home win in that stretch was Charlotte, 140-79 winners over Memphis in 2018.)
From 1956 through 2014, there were 32 games decided by 51 or more. Home teams went 28-4 in those.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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