On the third day, usually there is rest for a pro basketball team. But twice in the next two weeks, the third day for the Washington Wizards will mean another late night flight, another early morning team meeting and another afternoon nap, followed by a third consecutive game.
Newly acquired big man Nene didn’t want to discuss it, let alone have to prepare for it again. But just as he joins his new team, the dreaded first set of three games in three nights has arrived on the Wizards’ schedule, beginning Saturday at Verizon Center against the Atlanta Hawks.
Nene already has been through it with the Denver Nuggets, but he played the first two games on back-to-back nights a few months ago, then took the third day off. His younger teammates on the Wizards (11-35) may not get that chance during a stretch when they host the Hawks, play in Boston, then return to host the Detroit Pistons.
“Don’t bring that up,” Nene said with a chuckle. “It’s crazy. It’s hard. You just have to have tough mind.”
This season’s NBA schedule, shortened by the lockout, guaranteed that every team would have to play at least one set of games on three consecutive nights, as the league crammed 66 games per team into just 123 days.
The league last forced teams to tack an extra game to the end of already grueling back-to-backs during the lockout condensed 50-game season in 1998-99. The Wizards played three sets of three consecutive games in 1999, going 4-5.
Before this season, the Wizards were the only team to play three games in a row during an 82-game season when, two years ago, a game against the Atlanta Hawks was rescheduled because of a blizzard in the Washington area that left the team stranded in Orlando for three days. That team lost all three games. Only one player from that roster, Andray Blatche, remains with the team, and he won’t be available as he works to improve his conditioning.
Veteran Rashard Lewis won’t be available for the upcoming trio of games because of a bone bruise in his left knee. He was a seldom-used rookie with the Seattle SuperSonics in 1999. Lewis said he would advise his teammates to get as much rest as possible.
“You can’t be up all night playing Play Station or watching movies. You have to get your rest, especially with the type of schedule we have coming up,” Lewis said with a laugh. “When your body is tired, it’s more mental than anything. Of course you go into the game tired, legs tired, fatigued. Once you get out there, everything kind of goes out the window and you have to play hard.”
Rookie point guard Shelvin Mack said adjusting to the grind of the NBA schedule has been a challenge, but he is actually excited about the upcoming stretch. “I think everyone would rather play games than have practice, but to go out there and compete, you’re going to enjoy it,” Mack said. “It’s kind of like AAU tournaments, when you used to play seven or eight games in two days. So you kind of know how to go through it, but it’s a different level with better athletes.”
After playing the Hawks, the Wizards will scurry from Verizon Center to Dulles International Airport to catch a flight to Boston for a game against the Celtics. They will arrive about 1 a.m., take a team bus to the hotel, check in, then wake up for an 11 a.m. breakfast meeting to go over the game plan. They will break, have about five hours to fit in a pregame nap and possibly a meal, and catch the team bus to TD Garden before playing a game at 6 p.m.
Then the Wizards will return home about 1 a.m. and repeat the ordeal one more time before they play the Pistons Monday at 7 p.m. “That’s definitely some AAU type stuff. I was way younger back then. I had way more energy,” said Trevor Booker, who also is battling plantar fasciitis in his left foot. “It’s going to be tough. I’ll just stay in bed until I go to the gym. We’re a young team, so our legs — I mean, it’s definitely going to be hurting us — but it shouldn’t hurt us as much.”
Roger Mason Jr. said he won’t make many changes to the routine he follows for a back-to-back set. He rarely takes extra shots on the day of the second game and will take measures to save his legs. A players’ union vice president, Mason said the athletes understood how physically taxing it would be to make this season happen.
“I think most guys would agree, it’s great for the fans to be able to see more games,” he said. “It’s good for us to play as many games as we can. No one wanted to have a 50-game season. We wanted to get as many games as we could.”
After they play Detroit, the Wizards will take two days off, play back-to-back games, take a day off, play another set of back-to-back games and then after one day off, start their second set of three consecutive games with a home game against Indiana. That will be followed by road games in Detroit and New Jersey.
“This schedule has been tough all year,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I’m not worried about the three in a row. We’ve got to play them one at a time and the game dictates how the game goes in each of those scenarios.”