While it was customary for the Cavs to fly out to the next city on their schedule immediately following a road game in years past, Cleveland chose to stay over in the city it played and fly out the next day after each leg as a fundamental shift in how it approaches trips this season.
“The biggest thing for recovery is sleep,” Cavs head athletic trainer Steve Spiro told ESPN. “There isn’t anything better and for these guys that are taxing their bodies through travel and through their workload on the court and practice and extra work or whatever, we can have all the technology in the world but obviously a great night’s sleep plays a role into performance. There’s no doubt about it. So you have to have your finger on the pulse of it.”
The Cavs started the trip in Houston a week ago, losing 117-113 to the Rockets on Thursday. They stayed the night, traveling to Dallas on Friday afternoon. They beat the Mavericks on Saturday, 111-104, and stayed the night, traveling to New York City on Sunday afternoon. They beat the Knicks on Monday, 104-101, traveling to Charlotte on Tuesday afternoon.
LeBron James endorsed the travel adjustment immediately, praising the fact that the team was staying in Houston even though he admitted all he had planned postgame was dinner back in his hotel room and echoing the same thought following the Dallas game even though it meant delaying the team’s arrival in New York, the city that never sleeps.
“We’re old, man,” said James, who turns 33 next month. “Whenever we get a chance to stay over for the night this season, we have to do that.”
Indeed, the Cavs had the oldest roster in the league at the start of the season, with an average age of 30.3 years old.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said the team mapped out its plan to build in more stayover opportunities when the 2017-18 schedule was released in August. NBA commissioner Adam Silver moved up the start to the regular season and shortened the preseason to accommodate more times between games until the playoffs begin in mid-April, looking to drastically reduce the amount of four games in five night scenarios as well as the number of back-to-backs that teams play.
The Cavs play 13 back-to-backs this season, the fewest in the league. Last season their 18 back-to-backs were more than any other team played.
“That’s helped us out,” Lue said of the overnight plan. “I think with the schedule, not having as many back to backs — especially having back-to-backs on the road — that’s really tough. So, having that day in between to get rest and then fly to the next city has been good for us.”
Jose Calderon, a 13-year veteran, sees a mental benefit that accompanies the physical payoff.
“I actually like it,” Calderon told ESPN. “You don’t have to rush for the checkout time before the game. You just have to worry about the game without thinking about packing your bag or whatever. You’re relaxed after the game. Whatever happens — lose, win — you just kind of disconnect a little bit. Go on your own or with some of your teammates.
“And you wake up in the morning and you have time to go to practice. It’s more of a relaxed kind of feeling instead of getting in at like 2 a.m. or something some other place.”
Kevin Love agreed with Calderon’s take.
“You’re rushing a bit,” Love told ESPN of the process of trying to simultaneously prepare for a game and the flight that will follow it. “There is something there. It’s just that little bit of stress that you don’t need to deal with that may or may not affect you.”
While the Cavs will stay in the city they just played in more often during road trips this season, it won’t always happen. There are variables such as hotel availability, the length of the flights involved, time zone changes and yes, the Cavs’ brass’ collective subjective opinion of how attractive one city is compared to the next one on the schedule that will determine each itinerary.
But so far, the change is popular in the Cavs’ locker room. For a 7 p.m. tip, players can be showered, dressed and out of the arena by 10:30, back at the hotel by 11 and in bed by 12:30 even if they have a late meal. Flights the next day are typically around 2-3 p.m., which means players can easily sleep in until 9 or 10 the next morning and still have time to get in a workout or medical treatment before bag collection at 12 or 12:30 and the bus to the airport around 1 or 1:15.
“The way we’re traveling, it’s not like we’re traveling at 9 a.m. the next day,” Calderon. “So you got time to really rest and sleep those hours, even if you go out for dinner or whatever (after the game).”
There are still some kinks to the system, however. Love, for instance, preferred the Cavs would have left Dallas a few hours earlier on Sunday since they were losing an hour with the time zone change from Central to Eastern Standard Time on their flight to New York City. By the time they got to their hotel in NYC it was already past 7 p.m. and he felt like the day was lost. Spiro also knows some cities provide better amenities than others do to help him do his job.
“Medically for me, even staying in a place like New York actually gives me more resources to use too,” Spiro said. “We’re obviously in great places a lot of times and there’s plenty of facilities but sometimes that convenience from a medical side always kind of is a good thing. So, you kind of take a look at it, you take a team approach to it. I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer to it. With all the variables that are in there, you just try to make the best decision you can with everybody to be on board with it and commit to it. Anytime a guy can get more rest and get in a routine, the better.”
Rest is always paramount on the minds of the Cavs’ training staff and they have sent several members of the team to the Cleveland Clinic to monitor their sleep patterns.
“We’re starting to work more and more with their sleep center to be able to help guys who may have medical issues or things that can be addressed where you’re taking a look at some things,” Spiro said.
The Cavs hope this will keep their road warriors from becoming so road weary.
“I don’t think the old way was necessarily the wrong way,” Spiro said. “Much like the way right now, you’re just trying to find out what works best for the group that you have and how they best respond. … (It’s) a little bit of a different approach than we’ve done but I think it’s a good one so far.”