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Cavs’ road stretch gets tougher with back-to-back games

Monday, November 28, 2005

Mary Schmitt Boyer
Plain Dealer Reporter

The Cavaliers are enjoying a rare break in their schedule. After Saturday's 89-85 loss to visiting Minnesota, they don't play again until Wednesday's home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Then they're off to the West Coast, starting with back-to-back games against Seattle and the Clippers on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively. That will be the Cavs' third of 21 sets of back-to-back games this season, which means more than half their games will be played on consecutive nights.

That's about average for the NBA, where the number of back-to-backs last season ranged from 16 (Houston and Miami) to 23 (Atlanta, Charlotte, Indiana, Memphis, New Orleans and Washington.) The Cavs played 20 sets last season, going 19-21 overall, 13-7 in the first game and 6-14 in the second, including 2-11 when the second game was on the road.

Since the 1991-92 season, the Cavs' number of back-to-backs in an 82-game season has ranged from 19 to 24. But only twice in that span (not counting the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season) have the Cavs managed a winning record on the tough second night of a back-to-back. In 1991-92, they went 12-11 on the second night and in 1992-93, they went 14-8. Those were the last two seasons the team advanced out of the second round of the playoffs.

"If you look at the good teams that went to the finals and the conference finals, they win those kind of games," center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said. "That's what you need to do."

Indeed, Detroit, Miami, San Antonio and Phoenix were among the 11 teams that had winning records on the second night of back-to-backs last season. Phoenix was a stunning 17-5 on each night of the back-to-back en route to a 62-20 record.

The Cavs have played two back-to-backs thus far. They lost both games in the first set, at San Antonio and at Memphis on Nov. 4-5, but they won both games in the second set, against Orlando and at Philadelphia Nov. 18-19.

"It's probably one of the hardest things in the NBA, especially if both of them are on the road," Ilgauskas said. "I think it's as tough physically as it is mentally. But it's just something you have to deal with. After a while, you get used to getting to the hotel late and sleeping until the early afternoon and going to the game. For the young guys, it's kind of a reality shock because in college, you get two or three days between games. After a while, you do get used to it."

Cavs coach Mike Brown doesn't have a particular strategy for back-to-backs.

"I want to win the first game because that's our next game," he said. "If that means LeBron [James] and Larry [Hughes] have got to play 42 minutes, then they've got to play 42 minutes. But if we're up big or we're down big, then I may end up pulling some guys out sooner than I normally would because of our game the next day."

Said James: "Mentally, you've got to really prepare yourself on back-to-backs. Physically you can be tired. But you have to be prepared to use the mental aspect of the game to get by."

Of course, back-to-backs don't seem quite so bad when you consider that in the early 1980s, NBA teams played three games in three nights. That type of scheduling also was used in the lockout-shortened season.

The Cavs played three games in three nights twice in 1998-99. In the first set, from April 6-8, they played Chicago, at Milwaukee and Orlando, winning the first and losing the last two. They managed just 69 points in that third game. But in a tougher stretch from April 12-14, they played at Boston, against Washington and at Chicago, losing the first and winning the last two.

James doesn't even want to think about it.

"Oh, man," he said. "I couldn't imagine that right now."
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