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The 66 Game NBA Schedule - the Broad Strokes

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Although the actual schedules will not be available for probably another week, the NBA did announce today the basic guidelines they will follow in creating the schedule. (Hat tip to Citizen AtotheZ for posting the link in the FanShots).

When the settlement was first announced, I speculated that the NBA might wish to have the 66 games include two games against every non-division opponent, and four games against division rivals, for a total of 66. The advantage of such a schedule would be that every NBA team would visit every NBA arena this season.

The league office decided to go a different direction. Probably in recognition of the difficulties of travel in an already compressed season, they have broken the schedule more along Conference lines, with each team playing 18 games against the opposing conference (instead of the usual 30) and 48 against the home conference (losing just four games from the standard 52). So the majority of the missed games will come against opponents from the other conference.

The impact of this is most easily understood from the standpoint of a season ticket holder. If you have Clippers' season tickets, six of the 15 Eastern Conference teams will NOT be playing the Clippers in LA this season - that's 40% of the Eastern Conference. We don't know which six will be off the schedule yet, but if you were selling your Heat and Celtics tickets on StubHub for a little profit, there's a decent chance that one or both of those games will no longer be happening.

I understand the travel issues, but in the end I personally feel like the NBA is one league more than it is two conferences, and the idea of the Clippers playing Minnesota three times while playing Orlando once (just as a for instance) seems strange to me. I would have thought a more balanced schedule, ensuring all teams visited all arenas, would have been preferable. Turns out, they did not consult me for my opinion.

The other new information we have concerns the frequency of games in the 66 game schedule. We already knew that the targeted start of the season is Christmas Day. The regular season has been expanded by eight days until April 26th and the post season will begin on April 28th. How does this 66 day schedule compare to a regular NBA season? How does it compare to the 50 game 1999 season (which featured some very poor play and more injuries than normal)?

  • Regular NBA season - This season was to begin on Nov. 1st and end on April 18th. That's 170 days. Subtract out four days off for the All Star Break and you're left with 166 days in which to play 82 games. That gives us a game every 2.02 days.
  • 1999 strike shortened season. The last lockout shortened season began on Feb. 5th and ended on May 5th. That's 90 days in which to play 50 games (All Star Weekend was cancelled in 1999). That gives us a game every 1.8 days.
  • This season - We now know that this season will begin on Christmas Day and end on April 28th. That's 124 days. Subtract out 4 days off for the All Star Break and you're left with 120 days in which to play 66 games. That gives us a game every 1.82 days.

So the shortened season will definitely be much closer to the 1999 sprint than to a normal NBA season. It's not quite as bad - but only marginally so.

The NBA also announced that the schedule will, by necessity, include some back-to-back-to-back games. Every team will play at least one triple; no team will play more than three. You can expect the Clippers to be one of the teams with three. As I pointed out a couple of months ago, Staples Center presents a greater challenge than any other venue, and one the NBA didn't face in 1999, when the Clippers and Lakers were still playing in the Sports Arena and Forum respectively. Rescheduling two different NBA teams into a compressed schedule in a building with a hockey team and other events already scheduled, knowing that the Grammy's come to town and take over the building for over a week right in the middle of it all - well, the 28 other teams will be child's play by comparison. With the Clippers being low team on the totem pole, I expect a LOT of weekend matinee games, and the full complement of three back-to-back-to-backs.

As an aside, keep an eye on the All Star Game question. I have not heard anything about it being cancelled, which must surely mean that it will happen as scheduled. The city of Orlando for one would be pretty upset if it didn't happen. However, I'm hard-pressed to imagine how the teams will be chosen for a game in mid-February when the season starts Dec. 25th. Last season the starters were announced on Jan. 27th and the fan voting had been cut off even before that. Fan voting for the All Star starters is a bit of a joke as it is - but having it occur over the first three or four weeks of a shortened season would be absurd. I would not be surprised if this year all 24 all stars were chosen by the coaches.