July 30, 2020 

Dream players, coaching preparing for late tipoff

Beginning with Wednesday's game, the Dream will play 10 games in 18 days.

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Betnijah Laney #44 of the Atlanta Dream drives to the basket against the Dallas Wings on July 26, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

When the Atlanta Dream finishes its shootaround before the game against Las Vegas on Wednesday, the players will still have nine hours to kill before the game starts.

Because every team is playing in Bradenton, Fla., in the Eastern time zone, the WNBA schedule makers tried to schedule the West Coast teams so they’d be on TV in primetime for their fans on the other side of the country. But because every team is in the Eastern time zone, that means late-night games.

Nearly every night of the schedule, there’s a 9 or 10 p.m. ET game featuring one of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle or Phoenix. In a normal season, the average game starts around 7 p.m. local time. Playing three hours later is an entirely new experience for the Dream players — but coach Nicki Collen isn’t worried about the late hour.

Her biggest concern is the timing of having multiple games on a single court. Wednesday, the Phoenix Mercury and the Indiana Fever play at 7 p.m. on the same court the Dream will play on later. If all goes according to plan, there will be just about an hour between the games. But in normal times, teams typically get access to the court two hours before a game, and that hour break is assuming everything goes according to plan.

As the Dream learned Sunday in its season debut, a game that lasted more than two and a half hours, things going according to plan is not a guarantee.

“I don’t think lateness impacts our pregame as much as we’re just not used to having games before ours,” Collen said Tuesday. “We’re used to that two-hour window where we’re on the court at two hours for individual shooting and then at 90 minutes, posts, and at 75, guards, and we’re stretching. It gets us out of our pregame routine.”

“… [If the first game goes long] all of a sudden, you’re barely doing layup lines to get yourself ready and spending a lot of time jumping around in the hallway. We’ll hopefully get 60 good minutes or 45 minutes of work because we’re still going to do our pregame routine in terms of talking to the team. That’s the biggest complication, I think, is the timing.”

The Dream’s schedule calls for a shootaround in the early afternoon, ending around 1 p.m. After that, the players will have eight hours before they can potentially be on the court to warm up and nine hours before the game starts. To put it lightly, that’s a lot of time to kill.

“Probably have to take a nap during the day just to have the extra energy at night,” Elizabeth Williams said. “At the end of the day, both teams are dealing with the late time. It’s not like Vegas is used to West Coast time either, so it’s gonna be an adjustment for everyone. I think I will just try my best to create a new routine for the late games.”

Adding difficulty to the late-night games is the fact that in the next 18 days, the Dream play 10 games. Atlanta doesn’t get two days off between games until August 17-18. With a later tip-off, the players have less time to recover between games. It’s only a few hours’ difference, but when you’re playing every other day for more than two weeks, a few hours can make a difference in recovery.

Practice times will shorten — and in some cases be eliminated entirely — as the Dream dive into the longest every-other-day section of its schedule. The next longest stretch of playing games every other day is 11 days at the end of August.

Atlanta isn’t unique in that aspect. Every team will deal with similar schedules throughout their time in Florida, but it doesn’t make it easier for any of them. Add in a few games played later than normal, and it won’t be an easy path.

“We don’t have another two-day prep until August 17,” Collen said. “When we start playing tomorrow, it’s truly every other day, so we have to be really careful about how much live-action we do [in practice] from here on out.”

Written by Bailey Johnson

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