It finally happened. The Toronto Raptors received a Christmas Day game for the first time since 2001 and, according to the NBA’s scheduling heads, all it took was bringing the Larry O’B to Canada.
Well, mostly anyway.
Making an appearance on Bleacher Report’s The Full 48 with Howard Beck, Senior Vice President of Game Schedule Management Tom Carelli and Senior Vice President of Basketball Strategy & Analytics Evan Wasch admitted that having the NBA title holders play the holiday game on their home floor has become somewhat of a tradition.
“It’s not a written rule anywhere but it actually came from our players association several years back where they said, ‘Look, it’d be a nice tradition if the defending champion gets to be home on Christmas,’” Wasch said. “And so, to the extent that we can deliver that in a way that maximizes ratings while also respecting that championship is something that we strive to do.”
With the Philadelphia 76ers playing the Milwaukee Bucks — two opponents that the Raptors beat en route to their maiden championship — on that day, and Kawhi Leonard’s Los Angeles Clippers matched up against LeBron James’ Lakers, it makes sense that the Celtics may have just been the next best thing.
“They are the defending NBA champions,” Carelli said. “I don’t know if it’s automatic, as we said earlier, we talk about start times and we look at everything and we decide these are things that we want to try and pursue and them playing on Christmas was a great idea, and then playing the Celtics on Christmas was a great idea.”
Toronto and Boston, despite never having met in the playoffs, have had some memorable regular season duels. Just last year, there was an overtime classic at TD Garden that saw Kyrie Irving get the better of Leonard, while Leonard and Danny Green combined for a spectacular double-block in Toronto to deny Jayson Tatum late and help push the Raptors to a thrilling victory. Only one of those players is expected be around for this clash, but there will be plenty of intrigue in an open Eastern Conference beyond Milwaukee.
Beyond the Christmas highlight, the Raptors will play six games on ESPN, five on TNT, and eight on NBA TV. They will also play 13 back-to-backs, right in line with this year’s league average of 12.4 (a 36% decrease from the 2014-15 season) per team as the league continues to act on maximizing the quality of games.
Carelli and Wasch also explained the breakdown of determining back-to-backs, which was interesting to note.
Every back-to-back gets colour coded as green, yellow, or red, based on the travel time right down to the minute. They have travel logs from the arena in one city right up until arrival to the hotel of another. So, cases where short flights are followed by long drives to the hotel are already factored in or, for in Toronto’s case, having to get through customs. Portland to Denver, for example, is identified as a ‘red B2B’ and so has been completely scrapped and the same applies to getting from L.A. to Denver. Altitude, which is a major factor in Denver and Utah, is also considered.
Beyond accounting for concert dates and other events at arenas, their decisions are also influenced by the fact that the Eastern Time Zone commands 51% of the TV audience, which has resulted in a decrease in 10:30 p.m. ET start times on national television from 56 to 33 for the 2019-20 season. So, if you’re looking for those spicy Western Conference matchups on the east coast, you’re in luck.
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