LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Los Angeles Lakers will have an earlier tipoff time for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday, a schedule change that couldn’t come soon enough for the team.
The Lakers will play the Houston Rockets at 7 p.m. ET, a welcome adjustment after seeing their first eight playoff games start at either 9 p.m. ET (six times) or 8:30 p.m. ET (twice).
While the NBA is conducting its postseason in a centralized location for the first time, establishing a bubble at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, to finish the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Lakers say the late games have limited the advantage of not having to fly to road arenas.
“You just remove that element of being in the air, arriving late at night. But our 9 o’clock starts, it feels like we’re playing and traveling during the season,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Wednesday. “It’s because you’re getting back to the hotel very late, you’re up late.”
For television purposes, sometimes those starts get pushed back a half-hour or so to accommodate the game that precedes them. And for the Lakers’ players, that means not being able to go to sleep until the wee morning hours following a game.
“I get right to work right after the game,” LeBron James said after the Lakers’ Game 1 loss to Houston. “Win, lose or draw, I start my treatment already in the locker room; when I get back to the hotel, I’m going to do some more. Be up pretty late tonight.”
Vogel estimates on a typical game night, he won’t get to bed until 3 a.m. at the earliest and then he’ll be up again at 9 for his morning coaches’ meeting.
“I watch film until I fall asleep, which is typically not before 3,” Vogel said. “But typically not after 5. I’d say before 3 and 4 is when I typically go to bed after a 9 o’clock game.”
The Lakers-Rockets broadcasts were paired with the Milwaukee Bucks-Miami Heat Eastern Conference semifinals series and aired as doubleheaders. But with the Heat eliminating the Bucks already, that means the Lakers and Rockets will have the only game on the NBA schedule Thursday and hence an earlier start time.
Beyond the late tipoffs, the Lakers also have brought up the challenge of playing games scheduled every other day for so long.
“Hopefully the NBA will give us a break sometime,” Lakers guard Rajon Rondo said after Game 3. “They’re running us to the ground.”
The Lakers did have six days off without a game after beating the Portland Trail Blazers in five games in the first round, getting nearly a week’s rest while the Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder went to a Game 7 to decide their series.
Still, once the series have started, games have been scheduled every other day. Which has led players to put rest at a premium during the in-between days.
The Lakers have used those days for team film sessions and light shooting. James posted a video to his Instagram story from inside a hyperbaric oxygen chamber Wednesday with a caption that read, “nap and recovery time!”
Dennis Lindsey, the general manager of the Utah Jazz, told reporters Wednesday that the league should look at continuing to cut down on flights in the future because of the overall benefit that teams have had in the bubble. He suggested perhaps adopting the Major League Baseball model of flying to a road city and playing an opponent a few times in a row before hopping on another flight.
“The league’s teams, and specifically the health and performance group, have gotten a lot of feedback from players that their reduced travel, they physically feel better,” Lindsey said. “So if we ever get to a situation like baseball where you play a team more than one time in the market — obviously, there’s some business concerns there — but that reduced travel, I definitely think the product is more compelling because of that.
“The players feel better, and frankly, we need to listen to the players at every turn.”