Monday, at the University of San Francisco, the Miami Heat will do something they haven’t done since the start of the season:
Welcome to NBA 2011-12, where the games flow freely, but full practices are special order, the rarest of commodities.
Oh, there have been game-day shootarounds, informal drilling with players and coaches, optional sessions on the road, but since Dec. 25 there has not been what there will be Monday, a couple of hours of seriously getting down to the business of getting better.
Celebrities: See who is courtside at the Finals
Generally, the Heat do not practice the day after a road game or the day after back-to-back games. Based on the Heat’s 66-game lockout compressed schedule, that would leave 22 opportunities to practice.
But coach Erik Spoelstra sees an even smaller number.
“Out of 22, I counted 11 1/2, maybe, that we can have full scale, full contact, that we’re used to at the Miami Heat,” he said. “Now, we can have 22 where you can do something and shooting, but maybe not contact. So it’s considerably less.”
“Last year,” Spoelstra said, “we had 76 practices.”
Spoelstra’s practice planner is so limited that it blows away players used to the typical relentless Heat pace of practice, play, repeat.
“It’s a shock,” forward Udonis Haslem said when told of fewer than a dozen practices being planned for the season.
“Wow,” forward Juwan Howard said, “that’s the first word that comes to mind.”
Yet Spoelstra said he views his team as well positioned for the NBA’s new practice dynamic. He said playing so deep into last season and returning so much of the core has reduced the need for relentless repetition.
“That’s where we feel all the experiences we went through last year can help us,” he said of the march to the NBA Finals. “We went through eight months together and going through those last two months is the equivalent of going through an extra half season, because of the heightened focus, the heightened attention to detail.”
Make no mistake, that attention to detail remains, even as Monday marks the first time since training camp that the Heat will walk into a gym with knee pads in place.
“When you’re on the plane,” Howard said, “they’re handing out video tapes to us. We’re using that time on the plane doing a lot of that studying.”
If nothing else, there certainly is plenty of transit time this season, with Tuesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors the midpoint of this coast-to-coast five-game trip.
“The teams that will be able to learn the most from watching video will benefit the most, obviously,” forward Shane Battier said. “Usually, teams with more veterans who understand the way NBA offenses and defenses work, can learn more from tape, will absorb things more quickly.”
But Haslem said it’s not quite the same absorption rate as when you’re working at speed.