We still do not know what a 66-game season will look like. Even just a week away from this crazy journey beginning.
Will players be ready to go immediately or will the first six games or so still look like preseason? Is two weeks of training camp enough for good basketball? Will players succumb to injuries? What about fourth quarters? Will teams be able to push forward late in games as fatigue from back-to-back-to-backs, four games in five nights and six games in eight nights set in?
It is going to take a while to answer these questions. And who knows what basketball is going to look like when the chips finally come down.
What the normal fan might not consider is how important that month-plus of training camp is for the players to be ready for that late October/early November start to the season. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy last week lamented about the lack of preparation for training camp and said teams will be feeling the pain of that lack of repetition once the season gets going (h/t Brian Serra of Magic Basketball Online). But it is what it is and this is the schedule everyone has to deal with:
"We're not in the condition now that we are normally in when we open training camp, because we usually take the entire month of September and we're not in the shape now that we're normally in when we start training camp," Van Gundy said Saturday after his team's open practice. "I think that there will be some teams that are better and some teams worse and as far as relative to where we are, I don't know.
"I think when you've been in this league a long time, and I think all the coaches are in the same boat, you know what it's supposed to look like at various points. You know what the middle of training camp looks like in terms of conditioning. You know what the start of the season looks like in terms of conditioning. But right now, you don't have any idea.
"It's not that the players didn't do anything. You can only do so much on your own. The players, for the most part, came back in as good a shape as they usually come back in. But they come back and then we take a month to take them from there to get them ready for training camp. And then we have a month of training camp. So you bypass now the entire month of September and half your training camp. This is no knock on the players, not here or anywhere else. I mean that sincerely."
Conditioning is going to be an issue. And as the Magic proved in a 118-81 stomping from the Heat, they are a long way away from being in game shape. Stan Van Gundy said Tuesday that practice was spent working on getting into better conditioning and fixing the transitional break downs that led to the Heat getting easy shot after easy shot.
Definitely count Miami among the teams more ready for the season.
Van Gundy said that he has focused on installing defensive principles and trying to get his team into condition and that, really, defensive intensity and offensive execution won't come until the team is ready to play games. Obviously some teams will need that lost month and a half than others. But every team should be hurting from not having that extra month with the coaches and staff to get into shape and learn the team's philosophies.
Still, it is not understanding the concepts that is the problem for Van Gundy and his Magic. Right now, it is getting the players into shape to execute them at a high level. Oh, and ignoring those Dwight Howard distractions surrounding the team (Van Gundy's response to questions about Howard on Tuesday was: "Dwight Howard practiced today and will play [Wednesday]."
While other teams do not have the crazy trade distractions, they do have the conditioning problem. The champion in 2012 might be the team that survives the gauntlet and gets into that game shape first.
Buckle up, it will be a wild ride.
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