The NBA is making serious headway toward reducing the number of back-to-back games their teams have to play.
And it is long overdue.
For years, players have told me how the second night of a back-to-back hampers their ability to play their best. They’ve said there is a difference in their energy level, focus and reactions.
Games on back-to-back nights prevent players from putting their best foot forward. Thus, fans are paying to see a product that often can be inferior, or at least not what they bargained for.
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In a situation that’s becoming more and more familiar league-wide, Cleveland recently left some of its best players – in this case All-Stars LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – at home as it flew to Memphis to play the second night of a back-to-back. Teams sometimes use this formula to protect their players from fatigue and injury.
In the end, the fans in Memphis got a bum deal because that was this season’s only scheduled visit from the defending world champions, and the stars of the show didn’t show.
In the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, which recently was tentatively agreed upon, the league will start the 2017-18 season 7 to 10 days earlier than usual, putting more days on the NBA calendar to fit in an 82-game schedule and reducing the need for as many back-to-backs. The plan also will cut the preseason to five or six games instead of seven or eight.
Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, who is on the NBA’s Competition Committee, is in favor of reducing back-to-back games. Carlisle praised the efforts of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, head of the National Basketball Players Association.
“A lot of us have been talking about this for a long time,” Carlisle said. “Hats off to Michele Roberts and Adam Silver for reaching common ground and finding a deal that’s a great deal going forward, but also helps protect players.”
NBA teams played an average of 18 back-to-back games last year. This year that number is down to 16.
However, there are a few speed bumps to the new plan.
“The downside is there’s virtually always travel involved, which adds to the challenge,” Carlisle said. “You’re going to be very low on situations where you have two consecutive days without a game because you’re virtually playing every other day.”
That means less practice time. But something’s got to give.
Later this season, the Cavaliers play Jan. 11 in Portland, Jan. 30 in Dallas, Feb. 9 in Oklahoma City, March 12 in Houston and March 19 in Los Angeles against the Lakers. It’s the only time this season the world champions go to those cities, and in all five of those cases, Cleveland will be playing on the second night of back-to-back games.
Ticket holders to those games are likely wondering if the Cavs will dress their best players in those games.
That’s the peril of a back-to-back. But beyond this season, help is on the way.
“With the new structure and the season starting a week early, back-to-backs will obviously diminish even more,” Carlisle said. “I don’t know what they came to as far as the length of the All-Star break, but that’s another place where you might be able to alleviate one. But they’ll figure out the right thing.
“It’s great news. It’s great news for our game, for our business, for our players, obviously, and for ownership.”