As Mike Conley and some of his Utah Jazz teammates were traipsing about the Disney campus bubble on Tuesday, bumping into cohorts from around the league and stopping to have the occasional conversation, a previously unforeseen realization slowly dawned on them.
“Honestly, we didn’t realize it until today. Just walking around, you see other teams, other players and they’re talking about [how] they’re on off-day, and we’re like, ‘Shoot, we haven’t had one yet,’” Conley recalled in a Zoom interview later that evening.
Not that he or his teammates are complaining. Rather, he added, they’d been so engrossed in their comeback preparation that it didn’t even occur to them that, since being cleared from quarantine, they’d had a nearly-unprecedented six consecutive days of getting work in on the court.
Coach Quin Snyder, cognizant of adjusting as needed and trying to find the right balance between keeping the Jazz sharp and keeping them fresh, said that he intends to remedy that oversight on Wednesday.
Though Utah is on the books for the Contemporary Hotel court from 2-5 p.m. ET, Snyder said Tuesday night that’s an appointment he does not intend to keep.
“You’re conscious of days off. We haven’t had the opportunity to have that yet — we’ll have one [Wednesday],” Snyder said. “And I think for our staff and our performance staff, that’s something we really have to be mindful of. Because even though the assumption is because we were out so long and not playing at the end of the regular season, that it feels like there’s a shorter time to prepare, the reality is there’s actually more time. We had four days of training camp before we started playing preseason games.”
As opposed to 13 straight days of scheduled practices in the bubble before their trio of intra-squad scrimmages begin.
Everyone on the team wants to ensure that they’re working hard enough to be prepared once the games get underway again. And yet, as center Rudy Gobert pointed out, none of that matters if the players are burned out or worn out in advance.
“It’s got to be a balance. We’ve got to be sharp on the court. At the same time, go hard, but also prepare ourselves for the tough opponents that we’re going to face in the future, and in the playoffs, but at the same time, be mindful of our bodies and our minds and know that it’s a long process. It’s not going to be in one day,” Gobert said. “The team that’s going to be the freshest and the sharpest mentally is gonna have a big edge, I think, on the other teams.”
One deviation from practice norms that the players and coaches have noticed have been the start times.
Earlier in the season, when the Jazz were practicing or shooting around, it was pretty much always a mid-morning affair.
Thus far in Orlando, their practices have started at 5, 6, 6, 5, 7 and 6 p.m. ET, respectively.
“I’m just staying mentally ready, mentally engaged because I can’t tell you the last time I’ve had practice at 6 o’clock every night,” Donovan Mitchell noted a few days into the sessions.
From Snyder’s perspective, those late start times have a definitive downside.
“I think it is challenging, for instance, to do development stuff and to lift after [such] practices — it just starts to get late,” he said. “In this situation, we’re playing a lot, so the process itself can move pretty quickly. But when it’s over, there’s just a recovery period. Fortunately, we haven’t had a 7 p.m. start and then a 12 [noon] practice, because those quick turns are hard.”
Not counting the Wednesday practice they intend to abandon, four of Utah’s six remaining practices are slated to begin at either 9 or 10 a.m., with the other two scheduled for 1 p.m.
Snyder did not say how those earlier times might impact what he has the team do, but he said his focus very much remains on finding how much is just enough.
“You want to practice and you want to practice hard, but you want to be fresh, and you want to be mentally fresh, as well,” he said.
Conley, meanwhile, maintains that he and his teammates have enjoyed the busy schedule to this point.
Which doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy a momentary break in it, as well.
“Our bodies have been feeling good, and guys have just been wanting to compete and have fun and kind of lost sight of the off-day thing,” Conley said. “I think it’s a welcome sight, though. I think guys worked very hard this week — and last week, as well. So it’s going to be a good day tomorrow.”