One perk of the NBA’s playoff bubble is that teams aren’t traveling to away games in other states and cities as they normally would, allowing them to conserve energy. For players and coaches in Orlando, getting to the game is as simple as shuttling across campus from the hotel to one of Disney’s three arenas.
However, not everyone is enthused about the new setup including the Lakers, who have had to adjust to later start times. Thursday’s Game 4 of the Western Conference semis against Houston, scheduled for 7 PM ET, will be the first time Los Angeles has tipped off before 8:30 PM this postseason. To accommodate television audiences on ABC, ESPN and TNT, the LeBron-led Lakers have mostly been slotted in primetime with six of their first eight playoff games beginning at 9 PM ET. As a result, coach Frank Vogel hasn’t been getting much shut-eye on game nights, sometimes not punching out until 3 AM.
“Our 9 o'clock starts, it feels like we're playing and traveling during the season," said Vogel, weary of the late nights he’s been logging in Orlando. “It's because you're getting back to the hotel very late, you're up late."
For coaches, the work doesn’t stop after the final whistle. Most nights, Vogel finds himself reviewing game film long after his players have hit the pillow. “I watch film until I fall asleep, which is typically not before 3,” said Vogel in comments made to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. “I'd say between 3 and 4 is when I typically go to bed after a 9 o'clock game."
“Hopefully the NBA will give us a break sometime,” said veteran Rajon Rondo, sharing in the sentiment expressed by Vogel. “They're running us to the ground."
While the Lakers have complained of burning the candle at both ends, Utah general manager Dennis Lindsey feels the NBA bubble has benefited players much more than its hurt them. “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,” said Lindsey, arguing the lack of travel has kept players well-rested and led to a higher-quality brand of basketball. “The players feel better, and frankly, we need to listen to the players at every turn."
The Lakers may be sensationalizing their predicament just a bit—they had a six-day reprieve between their first and second-round series. But obviously the bubble environment has been a challenge for all involved with players having to adjust to entirely new circumstances including restrictive quarantine protocols, being away from family and trying to muster enthusiasm playing in empty gyms.