What’s the key word for the shortened NBA schedule released by the league Tuesday night, December 6? How about “endurance?”
Teams will play 66 games compressed into 124 days, which means some will be played back-to-back-to-back. There are grueling stretches of three games in four days and up to eight games in 11 days for some teams.
For fans and ticket sellers, who endured a months-long lockout that led to the usual 82-game season being trimmed, there are mixed reactions.
For one, the schedule is unbalanced, with each team playing 48 conference games and 18 non-conference games. So, not every team will visit every NBA city.
Chicago Bulls fans looking for a visit from Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, or rising Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant, will have to wait until next season. Durant also won’t bring his game to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Knicks.
The Miami Heat — and its vaunted Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh — won’t be seen in Phoenix or Denver. And the only way fans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles will see Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is if a rumored trade happens that sends him to the Lakers.
Training camps open December 9. Each team will play two preseason games against nearby teams beginning December 16, and the regular season tips off with five Christmas Day games.
Two games (the Magic at Oklahoma City, and Los Angeles Clippers at Golden State Warriors) were added last week to the original three openers (Boston Celtics at Knicks, Heat at Dallas Mavericks and Bulls at Lakers) announced at the end of the lockout.
The league preserved one of its biggest rivalries: the Lakers play in Boston on Feburary 9, and the Celtics visit the Lakers on March 11. It also made sure its other marquee teams meet at least once and kept other big home-and-home series.
After meeting on Christmas, the defending-champion Mavericks get another Finals rematch with the Heat in Miami on March 29. Bryant and the Lakers will come to New York on February 10, and the Knicks will visit the Lakers on December 29, as part of a three-games-in-four-days West Coast trip.
The league also compacted the schedule to allow for a more normal playoff tilt. The playoffs will begin on April 28 and, if a seventh game is needed for the Finals, end on June 26. NBA players will also participate in the Olympics in London, which begin July 27.
Some brokers in cities with high-profile teams are pleased by the schedule.
“I wish [the season] was stretched out over two more weeks, but the team selection was very favorable,” Los Angeles broker Barry Rudin, owner of Barry’s Tickets, told TicketNews. “I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand. The Lakers have a great schedule, as do the Clippers with [last year’s rookie of the year] Blake Griffin on the rise.”
Jake Conaway, owner of Wanamaker Ticket Agency in Philadelphia, told Ticket News that he does not expect to see a lot of interest for 76ers tickets until the team starts playing. But Philly won’t miss out on visits from Bryant (February 6), Durant (February 29) and the Mavericks (February 17).
“For a 33-game [home schedule], it looks great,” Conaway said.
On the other side of the spectrum is Chicago, where Gold Coast Tickets owner Max Waisvisz lamented the lack of visits from big names.
“It’s one of the worst schedules ever,” Waisvisz told TicketNews. “None of these great teams from the West are coming in. No Kobe. No Durant. No Blake Griffin.”
Waisvisz also said the Bulls home dates could have been better. Chicago opens with four games on the West Coast and seven of its first nine on the road.
“Almost 25 percent are on Monday nights,” he said, referencing seven of the team’s 33 home games. “I don’t like it.”
The schedule should prove to be a grind for every team, but the league also did its best to keep its marquee teams from being overworked.
For example, the Lakers, Celtics, Heat and Knicks are not among the 11 teams that have two sets of three games in three days. They each have one, and the Lakers get theirs out of the way in the season’s first three games: the opener with the Bulls, a visit to the Sacramento Kings on December 26, and another home game on December 27 against the Utah Jazz.
The aging Celtics have 18 instances of games on back-to-back days and the Heat 13 such occasions. However, the Charlotte Bobcats play back-to-back days 28 times, and the Atlanta Hawks 25 times.