As the NBA prepares for its restart next month at Walt Disney World, Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford acknowledged that he is viewing the "unique opportunity" as more of a standalone experience rather than a continuation of the 2019-2020 regular season.
"I think it's very much the latter," Clifford said during a Tuesday Zoom call with reporters, when asked whether he believes this is a continuation of the season or its own experience. "I take this as just a unique opportunity. What's it been -- 10 or 11 weeks since we played? Guys have had basically an offseason. I think teams have come back and you'll even see some different offense, to be honest. We're going to put some new things in too. I think it's a unique situation and I think that's the way you have to look at it."
The Magic come into the restart with a 30-35 record, a half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Clifford, who has spent several decades in the game, pointed out how different the games at Disney will be for his team compared to teams that sit atop the standings.
"The one thing I think which is going to be interesting is, we're going to go back with eight games left in the season," Clifford said. "For our team, it will be the eight most important games that we'll play. For some of the other teams because they know they're in the playoffs, and there's no home-court anyway, those eight games are almost like extended preseason for them."
Like so many around the league, Clifford admitted that the circumstances are more challenging than they've ever been for all teams. The veteran coach knows that it will be challenging for his team to get into shape after being off for almost four months. The NBA shut down games on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Clifford, who said he usually likes to stick with a nine-man rotation, said he could envision games where he goes 10 or 11 players deep on his roster because of all the different health challenges and uncertainty that surround so many in the NBA right now.
"For instance, our first day of training camp in September, we played three full quarters with officials," Clifford said. "Guys were in that kind of shape. There's no way that our guys, I don't even think that we can play 5-on-5 in our first couple of practices. So I think that we're way behind where we would [normally] be to start camp. So you have to progress as a group in terms of conditioning level and all those things."
As Clifford prepares his team for what's to come over the next few months, he has gotten advice from coaches and players from different sports on the best steps to take during this challenging period.
"I have a lot of people in my background that I talk to all the time: Jeff [Van Gundy], Stan [Van Gundy], Thibs [Tom Thibodeau] I talk to all the time and I've been trying to think of different people that I could talk to about a challenge like this."
Clifford also noted that he has been in contact with different leaders and confidants in the NFL, including Washington Redskins coach Ron Rivera and former Arizona Cardinals coach and current Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, both of whom he met while they worked for the Carolina Panthers when Clifford was coaching the Charlotte Bobcats/Hornets.
"[Monday] I had a long talk with Steve Nash, who to me has an incredible feel for people and insight in competing," Clifford said. "I have different ideas from each of those [conversations]. My point is, the 30 coaches in our league, everybody's doing the same thing. Nobody has a blueprint for this. Nobody knows for sure that they have a way that's been successful doing this before with all of the different challenges that you guys have talked about. So I think it makes it interesting, it's going to be an exciting challenge. And it's different from anything that any of us have ever experienced."