With only one day of rest between the 66-game condensed regular season and this year’s postseason, the NBA’s best were forced to recharge their batteries almost instantly to prepare for the playoffs.
How do NBA players and coaches gear up for an even more intense postseason?
Front Row asked some of ESPN’s playoff battle-tested NBA analysts to talk about how they prepared for the “second season.”
Chris Mullin, Basketball Hall-of-Famer turned ESPN NBA analyst, played in eight NBA postseasons — five with the Golden State Warriors and three with the Indiana Pacers. For Mullin, the playoffs were all about two things: energy and focus.
“The focus becomes about one team at a time. You focus on the other team’s plays and you also have a laser-like focus on your own plays. Everything is magnified,” Mullin continued.
How did Mullin keep his focus?
“My game routine was pretty similar throughout my career,” he said. “In the playoffs, I would jump out of bed in the morning and head straight to practice. I’d eat a big breakfast and then take a huge power nap — a three-to-four hour nap.
“But my mind was constantly focused on basketball. It’s almost like there’s nothing else going on.”
Jeff Van Gundy, one-half of ESPN’s lead booth (with play-by-play commentator Mike Breen), coached the New York Knicks to six postseasons. That includes an NBA Finals appearance in 1999.
“I tried to prepare the team all season in playoff-like mode so nothing really had to change once we got into the playoffs,” said Van Gundy.
From a strategy standpoint, Van Gundy cherished the extra time to prepare.
“Another plus is that you rarely — if ever — have back–to–back games in the playoffs. Both of these things usually help the quality of play.”
Colleague Bruce Bowen competed in the NBA playoffs in 10 straight seasons with the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs from 1999-00 to 2008-09. He won three NBA titles with the Spurs and also competed against Van Gundy’s Knicks as a member of the Heat.
“It was incredible — the intensity, the focus in half-court sets,” he said. “It wasn’t about tricks, it was about executing to accomplish your goal of winning.”
And as Bowen explained, once you win it all, the playoffs have an entirely different meaning.
Bowen said: “You believe every NBA title belongs to you. If you don’t get back to the NBA Finals, it feels like a waste of time. I didn’t want anyone else to have that title.”
ESPN and ABC’s coverage of the 2012 NBA Playoffs will continue this weekend (May 4-6) with seven games in three days.