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NBA schedule czar explains Clippers’ 5-in-7 stretches

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Does the argument pass muster?

Utah Jazz v Los Angeles Clippers - Game Six Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

There has been much consternation about this year’s schedule for the Clippers. Between the travel, the rest advantage/disadvantage split, and the afternoon games, there was a lot of fault to find in the calendar for the upcoming season.

But nothing has drawn the ire of Clippers fans quite like the number of 5-in-7 stretches the team has this year: five total, leading the league along with Portland. Given that several teams — seven, to be exact — have zero 5-in-7 stretches, it did seem unfair for the Clippers to draw so many.

As a result, when Sports Illustrated writer Howard Beck put out a Twitter call asking for schedule-related questions to pose to the NBA personnel who design the calendar, I asked about those 5-in-7s. Here’s what Evan Wasch, Executive Vice President of Basketball Strategy & Analytics, colloquially called the “schedule czar”, had to say on The Crossover podcast:

“They have 5, there is another team with 5, there is another team with 4, and there are many teams with 3. We are not mean to the Clippers. 5-in-7s are just one of many, many metrics that one can use to evaluate the schedule. We look at everything from the travel miles to the total number of back to backs, the no travel back-to-backs; so the Clippers, for example, play five no travel back-to-backs, meaning either home/home or in the same city, which is among the highest in the league, so we try to look at team’s schedules in totality.

“We have another metric we love, we’ve talked about in the past, called the fresh/tired/even metric — which is a measure of relative rest, whether you are on a back-to-back or your opponent is. And so yes, in any given metric, someone has to be the most and someone has to be the least, that’s how ranges work, but we try to make it, we do make it fair across all these metrics such that if someone is the highest in one metric, they’re probably not going to be the highest in the others. So Clippers and Portland actually are the two teams with the five 5-in-7s this year, that’s just where the chips fell, but of course, back to the conversation earlier, that just means they’re gonna have more instances of two days off and three days off, because when you compress one portion of the schedule, that by definition means another portion is lighter....

“There’s any number of ways that a fan or a team could raise concern, but our view is that it’s really competitively fair all across the board.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, so let’s break it down piece by piece.

Yes, the Clippers got the short straw in terms of 5-in-7s, so by Wasch’s reasoning, they should benefit somewhere else. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The Clippers are fourth in overall travel miles (per Positive Residual), and have 14 back-to-backs, when each team has between 12-15. They do have 11 games with a rest advantage, which is in the top half of the 30 teams, but they also have 13 games with a rest disadvantage, which puts them in the bottom five of the league.

The only part of the schedule that favors the Clippers is the number of no travel back-to-backs. Even though the Clippers have a high number of overall back-to-backs, five of the 14 are in the same arena, which at least mitigates some of the wear and tear of playing on consecutive nights. L.A is in the top 10 of the league in this schedule stat — Memphis leads all teams with eight no-travel B2Bs.

The one other benefit of this schedule is that having clumps of games together means that there are also more extended rest periods. The Clippers have 11 two-day breaks and 3 three-day breaks, allowing for some additional practice time. Consider that L.A. ended last season by playing every other day for a month, and you remember why it’s nice to have some days off built in.

All in all, however, it still seems like the Clippers have reason to gripe. Other than a cushy stretch at the end of March, their schedule is among the toughest in a number of categories. That won’t be an excuse for the team, but it is something to keep an eye on throughout the year.