The Los Angeles Clippers’ two-week, seven-game road trip started a little earlier and grew a little longer than previously expected when the team departed Monday morning for Atlanta, more than 48 before their game against the Hawks on Wednesday night.
Doc Rivers has been experimenting with practice and shootaround times -- and sometimes whether to have them at all -- as he tries to figure out what patterns best fit his team and his players this season.
“I’m taking fresh legs over brains every single time,” Rivers said earlier this season.
For example, Rivers regretted having the team shootaround in Orlando during the Clippers’ last road trip back East. The Clippers had played Houston at home on Monday night, had flown from Los Angeles to Orlando on Tuesday and had an early-morning shootaround before the game Wednesday. The Clippers came out sluggish and lost to the Magic 98-90, and lost the next night to the Miami Heat 102-97. After the trip, Rivers was still kicking himself for making the players shoot around on short rest.
“I learned a lot on the trip as far as travel,” Rivers said. “I thought I made some mistakes in terms of changing our schedule and I thought we started off bad. The rest factor was big. We shouldn’t have had a shootaround in Orlando. I’m still learning the east-to-west and west-to-east travel. The shootaround was awful and it should have been; it was 7:30 in the morning on their body clocks so I learned a little bit.”
Three years ago Rivers met with sleep medicine specialist Dr. Charles A. Czeisler of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He canceled morning shootarounds on game days and pushed the start time of practices to noon.
It’s a philosophy he has brought over to the Clippers. Not only have players taken sleep studies, but they have also been tested to see what kinds of foods give them the most energy and what kinds of foods they should stay away from. Their pre- and postgame meals are now catered to reflect those results.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jared Dudley said. “The attention to detail is awesome.”
That’s why Rivers decided to cancel Monday’s practice and fly through three time zones a day early rather than fly out Tuesday for Wednesday’s game.
It’s the Clippers’ first long road trip of the season, and the Clippers go into it with a lot of questions about the team and their identity. They’ll have to make do without J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes, but the seven games in two weeks should tell them a lot about what kind of team they have by the time they come home.
“We can learn a lot about ourselves and how we approach each game,” Chris Paul said. “Not thinking about the next one, always about the first one. I always say you can’t win them all without winning the first one.”
“It’s a big trip but if we win them all, we can’t quit playing and if we lose them all we can’t quit playing,” Rivers said. “We have a long season.”