INDEPENDENCE: When NFL teams hurried out of their lockout and onto the practice fields last summer, teams weren’t prepared for the rash of Achilles injuries that surfaced.
The NBA was watching closely. Now as basketball’s training camps begin after another lengthy lockout, the Cavaliers are doing what they can to ensure lockout-related injuries don’t occur.
The Cavs, who already benefit from a partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, have sent their team doctors to talk to medical staffs from the NFL to discuss the unusually high number of injuries and learn if anything can be done to prevent them.
“Obviously, there is no guarantee,” Cavs General Manager Chris Grant said. “We could do all these things and have more injuries than we’ve ever had. We figure with the resources we have, this makes sense.”
Ten NFL players suffered Achilles tendon tears during the first 12 days of training camp and two more occurred over the next 17 days. That total of 12 Achilles injuries within a month was one-third more than the average number (eight) of Achilles tears for an entire season, according to the NFL’s Injury and Safety Committee.
Dr. Tim Hewett is the director of research for the Ohio State Sports Medicine staff and he also works closely with the Cincinnati Bengals’ medical staff.
Hewett said the same principles that apply to Achilles tears in the NFL translate to concerns about knee injuries, which are far more prevalent in the NBA than heel injuries.
“Part of this is simply awareness,” Hewett said. “I think it’s good that the management and sports medicine team is aware it’s a risk and I think that’s a positive. When you study something, the risk of that something goes down. Just the awareness that this happened in the NFL is probably a good thing for the NBA.”
The facilities and training staffs were off-limits to players during both the NFL and NBA lockouts, leaving players to train and care for their bodies on their own.
Now that everyone has returned, the Cavs are working quickly to learn where their players are from a conditioning standpoint, to establish a sort of baseline of fitness.
Cavs coach Byron Scott said Friday, after the team’s first practice, that he was relatively pleased with everyone’s conditioning. No one was in phenomenal shape, but no one was grossly out of shape, either.
Scott has become famous for his grueling training camps, dubbed “Camp Scott” for their intensity and duration. He conceded that will change this season because of the circumstances. He can’t be as hard on the players as he has been previously.
Last year, for example, Cavs players endured a full practice just hours before they played a preseason game.
“Camp Scott has to be a little like Camp Soft,” Scott said. “It has to be modified, and I have to take it a little slower.”
The Cavs overhauled the kitchen during the offseason and made everything organic. They believe injuries occur when guys are tired, so they’re exploring ways to adjust the practice and travel schedules to maximize rest.
They have also purchased more training equipment to maximize low-impact conditioning, ensuring players’ bodies are in proper shape without the constant pounding of practice.
Hewett said no NBA teams have contacted him or the OSU Medical Center, but he believes teams should focus on plyometrics to strengthen knee and ankle joints.
“High-intensity types of conditioning are meant for the preseason with plenty of recovery time,” Hewett said, adding players need six to eight weeks of training and recovery time.
The Cavs’ first preseason game is Friday and their first regular season game is in two weeks.
“Whether they can do anything at this point is questionable,” Hewett said. “If I had a week or two, I’d be doing balance work and core work [to strengthen joints].”
One advantage the NBA had over NFL players during the lockout was the access to non-NBA facilities and opportunities to play.
While NFL players were primarily limited to fitness gyms and some high school or college fields for drills without pads, a number of NBA players traveled overseas to play in Europe and Asia.
Those who stayed home gathered together for camps and competitive games in Las Vegas, Oregon and various other stops across the country.
It wasn’t quite like an NBA training camp and game schedule, but it was better than a treadmill and layup lines.
Veteran Antawn Jamison is the only Cavs player on the roster who also endured the NBA’s lockout during the 1998-99 season.
He remembers how exhausted he was playing so many games in such a shortened window and is stressing to his teammates to get as much rest as possible.
“A lot of these young guys look at the schedule like, ‘Yes we’re playing.’ They don’t understand,” Jamison said. “There are so many back-to-backs it’s unbelievable. We have to convey to the young guys to stay off your feet, go home and relax and don’t do anything because every day it’s going to be something.”
The Cavs play games on consecutive nights 20 times during this four-month season, and that doesn’t include a stretch of three games in three nights in late April.
During last season’s typical 5½-month schedule, the Cavs played on consecutive nights 19 times.
“The coaching staff is going to do a great job of not killing you, but as an individual, you have to monitor what you do off the court,” Jamison said. “Normally, you get to a certain city, you might want to go out and stay up late. You can’t afford to do that, because this will be difficult. It becomes more of a mental game. It’s a challenge, but everybody has to go through the same process. It should be fun.”
Baron Davis missed his third consecutive practice and went on Sunday to seek a second opinion on his ailing back. Davis hasn’t practiced since camp opened on Friday.
The Cavs have until Friday to decide whether to use their amnesty provision and release him.