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NBA games in China a rousing success, but come at a cost

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The Timberwolves defeated the Warriors, but that wasn’t the biggest story line in China.
USA TODAY Sports

SHANGHAI, China — Joe Lacob had been resting for quite some time.

Inside a private airport outside of the city of Shenzhen on Thursday night, about an hour’s drive from where his Golden State Warriors had fallen to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a preseason affair that tipped off at 2 p.m. local time, the majority owner of the defending champions leapt out of his recliner seat as if he had sat on a thumbtack.

Draymond Green had entered the room, and Lacob — whose weary Warriors team wouldn’t reach the hotel until the a.m. hours — was more than happy to give up his seat as both teams endured a 90-minute delay on the team’s charter flight.

Coaches, executives and players from both teams, who were still dealing with the 15-hour time difference, shared air space inside the lounge room. Some talked and others let their eyes shut for a much-needed nap. Players from both teams killed time while socializing so far away from home, with no shortage of shared griping and groaning along the way.

And with good reason.

Twenty-three sellouts later, and with the 24th coming on Sunday evening at the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai, these games in China are a rousing success in almost every fashion. But as has been so evident at every turn, this kind of blessing-and-a-curse trip comes at a cost when it comes to the actual basketball. Especially when you factor in the NBA’s shortened preseason.

More: China and Europe are a ‘one-off’ — for now

The league’s effort to create more recovery time for players sparked the reduction to four preseason games, meaning preparation time was already at a premium even before both teams made the 7,000-mile trek that has clearly taken its toll. After the Warriors and Timberwolves took part in a fan event on Saturday, with more than 15,000 showing up to watch players put on an exhibition of sorts, Green wasn’t shy about his view on the matter.

“I mean at the end of the day, my overall health probably will take a step back,” Green told USA TODAY Sports about the effect of the trip. “Your conditioning, and eating the right things (are negatively affected). You head into the season, and you kind of want to tune your body up and eat healthy and this, that, and the other. So all those things that’s conducive to playing basketball take a hit.”

Chief among them, as Green sees it, the players’ health.

“It’s a huge problem,” Green told reporters during a group session about the risk. “You kind of take training camp and break it up. It’s not the norm, so I think it’s a humongous problem.

“You start to risk injury and all of those things, so we have a pretty professional team. Guys get their work in, but it’s still nothing like actual practicing and that tempo. It’s more a risk of injury than the season. We’ll figure it out over the season.”

This is an interesting quandary for the league going forward, as they’re tasked with finding the right balance between global growth and the prioritization of the player experience. The Warriors and Wolves, it’s safe to say, are openly wondering if the inevitable ripple effect is a slow start to their respective regular seasons.

And don’t forget this hot topic, too (the Wolves certainly won’t): While the Warriors were able to fly nonstop from Oakland to Shenzhen, the Minnesota plane didn’t have the same fuel capacity and had to stop in Anchorage, Alaska for a 90-minute pit stop at 5 a.m. local time before heading East. This, mind you, came after Timberwolves staff members boarded the plane in Minneapolis and picked up the players in Los Angeles after their preseason game against the Lakers on Sept. 30.

No one is asking for sympathy, of course, but the reality is that this has been a rigorous trip.

The logistical challenges have been many, from the passport snafu with head coach Steve Kerr that forced him to fly commercially a day after the rest of the team to the customs delays during the Warriors’ day-trip to Hong Kong that had big man Zaza Pachulia left behind (a member of the team’s security staff stayed behind, and they eventually caught up with the rest of the team in a private car an hour later). The list went on from there, with all of it cutting into the kind of practice time that is so vital this time of year.

“It’s a great trip, a great experience, but this is not the way to prepare for the season,” said Kerr, who has joked that he might be on the hot seat now that his team is 0-2 in the preseason. “But that’s alright. We’ll have a about a week when we get back (before opening against Houston on Oct. 17), and I’m sure we’ll be fine.

“You’ve just got to do what you can. It’s a long season, and if we’re not in perfect condition on opening night, we’ll get there. We’ve just got to deal with what’s ahead of us.”

 

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