Just how important is it, exactly, for NBA players to get their rest?
It’s a tough question to answer, because the world’s best athletes don’t exactly operate on the general nine-to-five body clock. On the contrary, their body cycles and functionality is often at an extreme end; I mean, if you only saw what some of the guys can eat before games…
“It just depends on the individual,” said Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons. “Even for the guys in the city you’re playing, some guys go out and run the streets, others have a home cooked meal. Invariably, you can’t use an excuse because you know it’s coming.”
Nonetheless, there’s no arguing that teams don’t generally perform less successfully on the tail end of back-to-back games, particularly on the road, which L.A.’s doing Friday night in Portland having just arrived in the city at 3 a.m. after clubbing Denver 116-102 the night before.
Yet, the purple and gold have amassed a very impressive 13-4 record on the latter end of back-to-backs, including wins at Boston (Feb. 5), San Antonio (March 12) and New Orleans (Dec. 23). Their four losses came at Orlando (Dec. 20), San Antonio (Jan. 14), Utah (Feb. 11), and Denver (Feb. 27), and except for the Nuggets game, each came down to the final minute. That Denver contest had marked the latest L.A. had arrived in a road city on a back-to-back … Until last night.
“You have to trust your players to be responsible,” Cleamons continued. “It’s a balance of physical and mental tiredness … Is your body getting enough energy in with food, sleep, the whole thing? Like I said, all kinds of variables.”
Yup. It’s not just the physical tiredness that ones joints and muscles feel having performed at the highest level hours before, but the mental difficulty of staying focused on a task.
“You have to have more energy to chase (Blazers guard) Rudy Fernandez around the court than you might for someone else,” said Cleamons. “But if you didn’t get the right kind of fuel for your body, there goes your performance, not just physically but in how you think about it.”
And how do you make sure you’re fueled, particularly as a young player? Well, having Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher on the team doesn’t hurt, as those three know their bodies and what it takes to perform as well as anyone in the league. Then there’s Lamar Odom, who could seemingly be woken up at 5 a.m., been told to go play Team USA and still been just fine. Clearly, the various veteran influences cycles down to L.A.’s younger players, though trial and error often remains a necessary method for the individual.
“The first year or two in the league guys aren’t sure of that, and you wonder why their performance slipped?” Cleamons opined. “But the other thing you have to consider is the cumulative effect, since (Friday’s game) is the fifth game in seven nights for us. You just can’t help being tired after that kind of stretch.”
Of course, Cleamons isn’t talking just about the players; the coaches have to find time to sleep too, which can be especially difficult for those married with kids that may not get the rest at home because they’re eager to spend as much time with the family as possible.
I found that out by calling Cleamons’ room and disturbing him from a “restful period” he was trying to get in while watching game tape for the next team on his list. Good thing Clem knows his body clock so well, or I’d probably feel badly.
Alas, in a few hours, we’ll be able to tell at least to a degree just how fresh – or tired – the Lakers look in a building that will by anything but lacking for energy.