The NBA schedule is out and there are a number of games worth watching, from when the banner goes up in Oracle Arena opening night to what could be Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game in Los Angeles on April 13th.
But the schedule is more than just a list of 1,230 games, it tells you about the priorities of the league. Some themes emerged out of the NBA schedule. Some were expected, some not so much.
Here are five takeaways from my reading the new NBA schedule.
1) Adam Silver wasn’t kidding about building more rest into the schedule. We’ve already written about this, but it bears repeating — players are going to get a lot more time off in this season. And that’s a good thing. Last season there were 70 times teams had four games in five nights, that’s down to 27 this season. Teams will average 1.5 fewer back-to-backs, and the back-to-backs where teams travel across a time zone drops from 111 to 84. We knew this was coming, NBA Commissioner Silver had talked about this at the All-Star break, but the fact they did this while not starting the season earlier (as they may well do in future years) and keeping the week break around the All-Star Game is impressive. We will see if this reduces the times coaches rest star players next season, but in a league where the wear-and-tear on players leads to injuries, this is a good first step in dealing with scheduling challenges.
2) The league is finally starting to promote Anthony Davis like he’s a superstar. On the court, Anthony Davis was a top five player in the NBA last season — at age 21. He was an All-Star and led the New Orleans Pelicans to the playoffs. His PER of 30.8 was the best in the NBA — better than LeBron James, James Harden, Stephen Curry and everyone else. Yet the NBA mostly ignored him and the Pelicans, who were on NBA TV a couple of times and on no other national broadcasts. Not this time around. Opening night Davis and the Pelicans take on Golden State on TNT. Christmas Day you get to see Davis and the Pelicans. There will be 13 appearances on ESPN/ABC and TNT for Davis. As it should be. This is (arguably) the third best player in the NBA right now, and in five years or so may well be the best player in the world. He’s a budding superstar, they needed to get him out there. Finally, they did.
3) So much for another easy path for the Warriors. So much for the league playing favorites. Last season, on the way to a title, all the breaks seemed to go the way of the Warriors (particularly in terms of health). They do not catch any breaks with this new schedule. In the first days of the new season they face the Pelicans twice, the Rockets and the Grizzlies (all their playoff opponents from last season). If it’s tight at the end of the year, their final four games are against the Spurs and Grizzlies (twice each). They have 20 back-to-backs, tied for the most of any team in the league and one more than they had last season. The Warriors are still title contenders, but Curry and company are about to find repeating is a whole lot harder than winning the first time around.
4) Yes, you’re still going to see a lot of Lakers. Such is the power of the Lakers’ brand. Such is the draw of what could be the Kobe Bryant farewell tour. The Lakers are not going to be very good this season and yet have 19 games on ESPN/ABC and TNT — the same as the Houston Rockets and more than the Heat, Grizzlies, Wizards and a host of other teams. Why? Because this is a business and you give the people what they want — the Lakers grab eyeballs. Yes, Miami and even Milwaukee may be far more interesting and entertaining, but people watch the Lakers and the business is to deliver viewers to the advertisers.
5) Plenty of teams are unhappy. A lot of teams feel the new schedule is stacked against them. Take Orlando, a team that desperately wants to make the playoffs this season (they have not played the multi-year tanking game). The Magic open the season at home against the Wizards and Thunder, then go on the road against the Bulls, Pelicans, and Rockets, only to return home and get the Raptors — they could very well open the season 1-5 or 0-6. Portland has 20 back-to-back games. And maybe nowhere are people as unhappy as Detroit, something Andre Drummond summed up this way.