Charlotte Hornets

Hornets’ Steve Clifford: Striking balance between practice, rest big part of coaching

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford says striking a balance between practice and rest is essential in managing an NBA schedule.
Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford says striking a balance between practice and rest is essential in managing an NBA schedule. AP

Paul Silas, who coached two stints of basketball in Charlotte, used to say managing the schedule is as important as anything an NBA coach does.

By that Silas meant there are days when a hard practice is in order and other days when the smartest thing you can tell the players is to go put their feet up on the couch and get rested and refreshed.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford took that approach the past few days. His practices leading into road games against the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs were both light, and he gave the team Sunday off after they traveled from San Antonio to Minneapolis.

Clifford is well aware that the Hornets play 17 games – nearly a quarter of their schedule – before December. This is a particularly tough stretch in which the Hornets play a road game, a home game, another road game and a home game over six days.

All that travel has a wearing effect.

“How you pace your team is everything in this league. The fact is you have to have your energy for the games,” Clifford said. “You play 82 games and how much you practice has to be factored with that.”

Clifford spent most of his time as an NBA assistant coach working for Jeff and Stan Van Gundy. Clifford said the Van Gundys tended to give players more days off during the season than most coaches with this caveat: when their teams did practice, it had to be with energy and focus; no going through the motions.

“Regardless of how long it is, practice is about having the right approach,” Clifford said. “And (game-day) shootaround is also where you can put in two or three things you’re going to need. It’s about being focused with good intensity.”

Games on back-to-back nights – and particularly four games in six nights – are the most grueling aspect of an NBA schedule. Flying by charter somewhat mitigates the grind of NBA travel and Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for fewer back-to-backs. The league also lengthened the All-Star break last season so players participating in All-Star Weekend would get some rest as well.

Clifford would be all for a more baseball-like schedule where teams took longer road trips broken up by longer home-stands.

“In-and-outs are the energy sappers. I’d rather go on a five-game road trip than do what we’re doing here these next two weeks. That’s a hard way to go,” Clifford said. “I’d rather it be when you’re on the road you’re on the road.

“This time it’s six (games) in 12 nights early in the year. Then we go seven in 11 nights and its mostly out (of town), in, out, in.”

Clifford said he stole a travel trip from the Spurs Saturday, having the team stay the night in San Antonio, since they don’t play again until Tuesday in Minneapolis.

“It’s about not having that 3 a.m. arrival time” after a late-night charter flight, Clifford said.

“I think it just makes more sense to avoid that 2:30 or 3 a.m. check-in time. I know when I check in at that time I don’t get to sleep until 4 or 4:30. I’d rather stay and get up (for a flight) tomorrow.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell