Isn’t this a wonderful thing. The NBA is working to make back-to-back games and four-games-in-five nights schedule quirks a thing of the past. The league’s new collective bargaining agreement discussions, according to one report from ESPN, will include language that will help the league schedule its opening games more than a week earlier than they’ve been pitched in years past.
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As it was in the 1960s, the NBA will start its regular season in the middle of October. This will inconvenience fans of four of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams as baseball’s ALCS and NLCS will compete for viewers and attention, but this is a minor setback in the face of watching completely exhausted NBA basketball in the subsequent winter months. The NBA’s overlap with the NFL, already in place, isn’t even worth considering.
League sources say there’s a strong likelihood that the start of the 2017-18 season will be moved up a week to 10 days, which is yet another measure aimed at reducing the number of back-to-backs teams face over the course of 82 games.
We’re hearing that opening night next season is likely to fall in the Oct. 15-20 range, which would be achieved by shortening the preseason schedule from its longstanding eight-game max per team to five or six exhibition games.
The 2016-17 NBA season, to cite the most recent example, tipped off Oct. 25. Starting a week-plus earlier would give the schedule-makers even more wiggle room to cut down on the number of back-to-backs and four-games-in-five-nights stretches clubs endure.
NBA teams are scheduled to play an average of 16.3 back-to-backs this season, down from 17.8 in 2015-16.
This is all good and well, as it was for Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson, as they routinely started seasons in the middle of October to no audible consternation from the tweeters and sports radio clangers of the era.
To these ears, the loudest voices speaking out against such a move come from those who weren’t watching the NBA on Oct. 27 (and Nov. 27 and Dec. 27, while we’re at it) in the first place. Typically from fans of other sports, some of whom are ex-athletes from those professional sports who get paid to offer on-air opinions that (to their dismay) sometimes delve into the world of the NBA. Fans that have no issue talking about the NFL Draft in February, or NFL training camp positioning in July.
Fewer back-to-backs means better performance for all involved. And not just in the obvious examples, either, like LeBron James playing on back-to-back nights this week in Cleveland and Chicago in front of national television audiences tuning in via TNT and ESPN.
No, this has more to do with LeBron sitting out that infamous night in Indianapolis. Or, more importantly, it cuts out this internal monologue that runs through the head of the league’s go-to League Pass viewership, as they watch the Boston Celtics fall in the face of a 28-12 first quarter against Philadelphia:
“Why are the Celtics so crappy tonight? Did they … oh, forgot. They were in Detroit last night.”
As NBA athletes get swifter and stronger, more mindful of what they’re expected to do on both ends of the court with more levels of documentation (from the TV to the cell phone to the team tape ops that are on the ready should a player choose to take a play off, with teammates and coaches ready to pounce during that evening’s film session) in place than ever before, this is welcome news.
The move won’t eliminate the move to rest stars: LeBron James will still be asked to perform on the NBA stage from mid-October until mid-June, and as such he’ll need some nights off along the way. The 82-game schedule isn’t going anywhere, as the league (including its owners and players, both mindful of the money at stake) isn’t going to deny fans in Charlotte, Philadelphia and Milwaukee its lone chance per year to see Stephen Curry play in person. And the gate receipts that build in such an exhibition.
The trick, which has been in place for ages, is to extend the calendar season. Something former commissioner David Stern, weirdly averse to “competing” with the MLB playoffs in the age of DVRs and select viewing, held off on. In spite of the fact that the two leagues, long ago, encroached on one another’s October territory.
Early-season NBA games are a lovable trifle; they always will be despite the significant entertainment (and dollar values) involved. In the face of an unmovable amount of games, though, it only makes sense to move the opening date up.
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