LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla — There’s no bench. The courtside broadcasters will not be courtside. And the stat crew will be doing their work inside what loosely can be described as an oversized hockey penalty box.
The NBA comes back Wednesday with a very different look.
The league’s marketing motto for the restart of the season at Walt Disney World is “Whole New Game,” and in many respects, that’s very true. The arenas that will be used for the exhibitions, the seeding games that start July 30 and then the playoffs that are scheduled for mid-August through mid-October set up much differently than usual — all with safety during a pandemic very much in mind.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said league officials have been great, “they really have been. They’ve done everything right as far as I’m concerned.
“I mean, when you think that we’re running a village for the first time, the league is doing pretty well in city management.”
The court dimensions, of course, are unchanged.
Everything else about an NBA game setup is new.
Seating in the bench areas will be assigned, with folding chairs set up on three rows instead of the customary two and spaced out several feet from one another — instead of players sitting shoulder-to-shoulder as they have in the past. And across the center stripe, the words “Black Lives Matter" are painted onto the surface.
The area where the official scorers, timers and statisticians sit is enclosed by plexiglass, with social distancing in that makeshift room as well. Broadcasters, who are courtside in normal circumstances, will be higher up and several feet further back from the playing surface. Even the setup for replay reviews will be different — that monitor is in the corner of the arena, instead of being kept at the scorer’s table and utilized when needed.
League officials hope they thought of every way to keep people apart and promote social distancing.
Some teams have gotten tours already; Denver center Nikola Jokic didn’t get to see the arenas yet, but said Nuggets President Tim Connelly gave them good reviews.
“I didn’t see it in person,” Jokic said. “Tim told me it looks really nice. But to be honest, I’ve played in every possible arena. Nice, bad. Cold, hot. Whatever.”
The exhibitions that start on Wednesday will be glorified scrimmages, designed to help the teams, the referees and even the game-night workers figure out how everything works. Teams have even collaborated on their game plans, asking one another what they want to work on in these matchups that won’t count for anything.
They won’t even have a game feel: No national anthems will be played, no starter introductions will take place, warmups might not even happen like usual and some real-game elements might get tested out to see what works. The first scrimmages for each team will also have 10-minute quarters, as opposed to the usual 12.
“I’ve just got to take it one game at a time, see what it’s like during these scrimmages,” Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard said.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said he reached out to Utah’s Quin Snyder and Sacramento’s Luke Walton on how they wanted to make things work in their upcoming scrimmages, and other coaches have had similar conversations.
The Clippers play Orlando on Wednesday. Rivers said he knows exactly what Magic coach Steve Clifford will do in that scrimmage, and Orlando knows the Clippers’ plans as well.
“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to get better for both teams,” Rivers said. “So, coaches are absolutely sharing things. We’re asking them in this quarter can you do this, on-side, out-of-bounds, can you do this defense, then what do you want me to do? I think it’s been great in that way.”
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