Shorter NBA schedule has 42 back-to-back-to-backs
NEW YORK – The Los Angeles Lakers will play games on the first three nights of the NBA season, the first of 42 back-to-back-to-back sets teams will face during this lockout-shortened season.
The NBA announced the compacted, 66-game schedule on Tuesday night, one that will require every team to play on three consecutive nights at least once. And it will force every team to navigate demanding stretches that are never seen during a full season, such as the nine games in 12 nights the Atlanta Hawks face starting with their Dec. 27 opener.
The league's 66th season begins with five games on Christmas, including the Lakers hosting the Chicago Bulls. Los Angeles then visits Sacramento the next night before returning home to host Utah on Dec. 27.
Teams will play 48 conference games and 18 against the opposing conference, meaning they play only three nonconference opponents home and away. The league did preserve its most storied rivalry, with the Lakers traveling to Boston for a Feb. 9 matchup before the Celtics open a stretch of eight road games in 13 nights in March with games on back-to-back nights at Staples Center.
Dallas and Miami also will play twice, following their Christmas NBA finals rematch with a March 12 game in Miami. The Heat and Lakers also play two games.
The 50-game 1999 season featured 64 sets of back-to-back-to-backs and was plagued by sloppy basketball being played on fatigued legs. The NBA faces a similar predicament now after failing to reach a new labor deal in time to save the Nov. 1 start to the season.
Instead, a tentative agreement was reached on Nov. 26. Lawyers for the owners and players are still finalizing the rest of the deal, with both sides expected to vote on it Thursday before training camps and free agency open on Friday.
Aging teams such as the Celtics, Lakers and NBA champion Mavericks will have to pace themselves, while younger teams such as Oklahoma City figure to be better prepared for the grind.
"You're not going to have those breaks of three or four days that you sometimes got in the old 82-game schedule, when it was the normal regular schedule," former NBA coach and current analyst Mike Fratello said during the schedule announcement on NBA TV. "Now with everything being compacted, games come that much more quickly, you've got to gear up back up again, you move onto the next one immediately."
The Denver Nuggets, hit hard by free agency with three of their players in China, face another difficult obstacle in the schedule. They play five games in six nights spanning the new year, including a home-and-home set with the Lakers on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
The Nuggets do not host Carmelo Anthony, whom they traded to the Knicks last February. Deron Williams, sent from Utah to New Jersey days later, is scheduled to return to Salt Lake City on Jan. 14.
Other quirks of the schedule include:
— Toronto plays a franchise-record 19 games in 31 days in January, including five games in six days from Jan. 9-14.
— Cleveland has its longest homestand ever, nine games from Feb. 8-28 — including a visit from LeBron James and the Heat on Feb. 17.
— Philadelphia plays its first five games on the road, its longest season-opening trip ever.
Miami will appear on ABC or ESPN 16 times, the most allowable, followed by 15 appearances apiece for the Lakers and Bulls. The Lakers and Celtics each appear a league-high 10 times on TNT.
The Nets' final game in New Jersey after 35 years before heading to Brooklyn will be April 23 against Philadelphia. The Kings could play their finale in Sacramento on April 26 against the Lakers without a plan for a new arena.
The regular season is scheduled to conclude April 26 and the playoffs will open two nights later. The last possible date of the NBA finals is June 26.