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On the skews of the NBA’s new scheduling formula

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We still have yet to see the NBA’s official schedule (or have approval of the tentative collective bargaining framework from the NBA’s players and owners, but who’s letting that stop them from moving on?) for the coming season, but thanks to a release from NBA.com, we have a basic idea of how the distribution of games should look for every team. Matt Moore dug into the particulars over the weekend, including the unusual back-to-back-to-backs we’ll see in the coming season and the revenue loss of the unfortunate teams who won’t get a visit from the Lakers or Heat.

But if we read between the lines of the scheduling notes, a bit of an imbalance begins to take shape. Teams are currently scheduled for 48 in-conference and 18 inter-conference games — an arrangement that on the surface, should greatly favor those in the East. This is nothing new; under normal circumstances, NBA teams have more games against conference opponents than non-conference ones, so one side or the other inevitably gets the short end of the stick.

Yet by reducing the total number of games, each of those specific matchups matters more than usual. Decreasing the sample size of a season from 82 games to 66 increases the chance of a fluke regular season result, but it also gives every game additional value. A single victory will be worth more this season than in one of standard length, for the simple reason that there are fewer total games to go around.

So the fact that Western Conference teams will play nearly three-fourths of their games against in-conference opponents seems rather noteworthy. The West was by far the deeper of the two conferences last season, with 11 teams winning 39 games or more to the East’s seven. That glut of contention and competence will have to battle it out on a tight schedule with a big impact, which could lead to a bit of an insane scramble for the West’s lower playoff seeds.

Additionally, divisional schedules will matter more than ever this year, as each NBA team will play the full four-game slate against only six different opponents — four of which are presumably divisional foes. The rest of the matchups will be three, two, or one-game affairs, meaning that those situated in the most competitive divisions are saddled with more games against difficult opponents. Again, that in itself is nothing new, but the fewer total number of games coupled with the new breakdown of the various season series’ makes such variables even more important than usual.

That could spell bad news for the Houston Rockets, a team forever stuck on the playoff fringe. For all of their efforts last season — the Rockets won 43 games, just three short of the eighth seed — Houston still managed to rank dead last in the very competitive Southwest division. Part of the reason for that: a 5-11 record against the four other teams in the Southwest, which filled a chunk of the Rockets’ schedule with dropped games against tough competition. In theory, Houston seems likely to have as tough of a road as anyone next season, as they’ll face that same competitive group of divisional opponents (Dallas, San Antonio, Memphis, New Orleans) in a greater percentage of their overall games. As a team likely to fall again on the playoff cusp, the margin for error is already painfully small; the Rockets will somehow have to make the most of their more difficult schedule, lest they end another year in the lottery.

These factors alone won’t decide the fate of the Rockets or any other team, but the length of the season has slightly magnified the importance of the schedule’s typical quirks.

Miami Heat to retire Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey next season

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Shaquille O’Neal’s No. 34 jersey already hangs in the rafters at Staples Center for the Lakers.  He’s getting a statue there, too.

Next season, he will have his number retired on the other warm southern coast, this time in Miami.

The Heat have announced they will retire Shaq’s No. 32 jersey next season.

“Shaquille O’Neal is one of the truly elite players in the history of the game and one of the greatest players to ever wear a Heat uniform,” team president Pat Riley said in a released statement. “He took us to another level as a basketball franchise while leading us to our first NBA championship. Retiring his number in the rafters, along with Heat greats Alonzo Mourning and Tim Hardaway, is something we are very proud of.”

Riley left out that the Heat also retired Michael Jordan’s 23, and Dan Marino’s 12 also hangs in the rafters of the arena. Neither of those make much sense, but whatever.

Shaq played three-and-a-half seasons in Miami, averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds a game. Shaq was a three-time All-Star with the Heat and was at the heart of the franchise’s first title, along with Dwyane Wade… and Mark Cuban would tell you the officials. But that’s another discussion. He was also bitter after being traded to Phoenix and slammed Miami management and players on his way out the door.

Time heals all wounds.

Bull for Bull: Pau Gasol to replace Jimmy Butler in All-Star Game

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 6:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Chicago Bulls prepares to shoot a free throw against the Minnesota Timberwolves on February 6, 2016 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Jimmy Butler is out of the NBA All-Star Game in Toronto this weekend due to a strained knee. Which suck, because he earned that spot, and while the fans didn’t vote him in the coach’s did.

Butler’s teammate Pau Gasol will replace him.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make the call on a replacement, and he stayed in Chicago, but he added a front court player to replace a guard. Keeping a Bulls representative might have been part of the thinking. The coaches’ votes on replacement players has been weighed in the past (Gasol may have been high on that list, coaches love him). Also, the East roster has a lot of wings and was light on bigs (Andre Drummond, Paul Millsap and Chris Bosh are the only real bigs), so this gives coach Tyronn Lue some flexibility up front.

The East leading Cleveland Cavaliers remain with just one representative, LeBron James (voted in by the fans).

Gasol is averaging 17 points, 10.9 rebounds, and a couple blocks a game, and is the only thing close to a consistent performer the Bulls have. Besides the injured Butler.

Bulls’ All-Star Jimmy Butler out 3-4 weeks with strained knee

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It was concerning when it happened — Jimmy Butler injured his knee and had to be taken off the court on a stretcher.

But then the reports came back saying the X-rays were negative, this was just a strain. Butler was going to miss some time, but the question was how much?

Turns out, 3-4 weeks — including the All-Star Game, the team announced Tuesday. From the official team press release:

Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler was re-examined by Bulls Head Team Physician Brian Cole.  Butler is expected to miss the next three to four weeks with a strained left knee. Butler has begun rehabbing his injury and he will be allowed to engage in all activities as tolerated with the primary goal of maintaining his conditioning over the ensuing weeks.

Butler is the Bulls best player, averaging 22.4 points a game and handling a lot of the shot creation for the team (along with Derrick Rose, who was out Monday injured). The Bulls offense is 1.6 points per 100 possessions better when Butler plays, plus he usually draws the other team’s best wing player as his defensive assignment.

Following an ugly loss to the Hornets Monday night, the Bulls are now 5-12 in their last 17 games. Since Joakim Noah went out for the season with an injured shoulder in particular, their defense has struggled. They still have no offensive identity.  Chicago has fallen to the seven seed in the West, just 1.5 games ahead of Charlotte and falling out of the playoffs completely. This injury is simply going to add to that slide.

The Bulls thought they were the team that could challenge Cleveland for supremacy in the East at the start of the season. Now they may need a late push just to make the playoffs.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will pick his All-Star Game replacement. In the past, he has picked the player highest in the fan voting not selected as a reserve, in this case that would be Kyrie Irving. But Silver can go any direction he chooses.

Report: George Karl to remain Kings coach following face-to-face meeting with GM

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George Karl isn’t going anywhere as coach of the Sacramento Kings after all.

At least for now.

Marc Stein of ESPN, who had the report that the Kings decided to fire Karl during the All-Star Break — now says the two sides have sat down and hashed things out. For now.

Those first reports went too far down the line, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

First things first, the Kings are a leaky organization right now. Which is never a good sign.

This has become a power struggle in the organization — DeMarcus Cousins has said the Kings’ problems go beyond the players, and he is known not to be a fan of Karl (Rajon Rondo is the coach’s biggest supporter because Karl gives him a green light). Owner Vivek Ranadive remains too impatient, stability is needed.

But there are still big picture questions to be answered.

Ranadive, with Vlade Divac, needs to sit down and set the long-term course for this team, including style of play they want to have, then decide if Karl can be part of that future. Also, if Cousins can be part of that future. If those two can be part of the future together (I’m not sure they can).

There needs to be more meetings with the Kings, and then this summer some significant decisions must be made. But doing it now at the All-Star break isn’t going to change anything. So Karl stays.