The NBA released its full regular season schedule Wednesday, and beyond the usual slate of 82 games for 30 teams, the league has actually made some interesting adjustments to the schedule after much discussion last season.
Commissioner Adam Silver followed through on his commitment to limit sets of four games in five nights and back-to-back games in an effort to give players more rest, hopefully improving health and lowering injuries. According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, there are only 27 cases of four games in five nights, down 61 percent from last year, and the average number of back-to-backs per team has also fallen by two. They also reported that the number of back-to-back games spanning different zones was reduced by 18 percent.
This type of reactive scheduling marks an important shift under Silver, a more constructive response than David Stern’s fining of the San Antonio Spurs for resting their Big Three during a nationally televised game against the Miami Heat in 2012. By making good on his word, Silver has actually made an effort to balance player health with TV interests.
The best part of the health-related scheduling news is that it did not make the season longer overall, something that had been a concern when Silver announced his plan in February of this year, since an extended season would necessitate shortening the offseason recovery period. Here’s Windhorst again:
Though the season is not being extended, the back-to-backs were reduced because TNT agreed to give up exclusivity on Thursday nights and more teams can now play that night. Also, ABC agreed not to have exclusivity on Saturday nights. This enabled the All-Star break to remain a week long, a change to the schedule that increased back-to-backs last season.
Those are notable concessions made by the networks, especially with the new TV deal kicking in next summer, but they could prove to be better for the greater good of the league, aiding the goal for healthier players and fresher gameplay. Hopefully the new scheduling measures yield positive results.
Regardless of outcomes, it’s a strong response by the commissioner’s office to an important but thorny issue for a professional sports league.
The ABC Saturday night games Windhorst mentioned headline the changes the league has made to the TV schedule next season. Some of the ABC games formerly played on Sunday afternoons during the winter and spring will now be played on Saturday nights in an effort to build buzz for weekend NBA games and carve out a distinct time slot.
Those games begin January 23 when the Cavaliers host the Bulls, and the majority of the matchups predictably feature marquee teams. ABC’s Sunday games haven’t been drawing great ratings for the last couple years, so something was bound to happen, and prime-time Saturday night games should be an interesting experiment
As far as the games themselves, the schedule is loaded on all the usual days. Opening week has some excellent matchups, as does the Christmas day slate, and there are always some juicy showdowns scattered throughout the schedule as players visit their old teams or revisit current rivalries.
Opening night, Tuesday, Oct. 27:
Detroit Pistons at Atlanta Hawks
Cleveland Cavaliers at Chicago Bulls
New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors
The first night of the season features a couple playoff rematches, and it’s interesting that the league will be making LeBron James and Co. head into enemy territory for their first game instead of opening at Quicken Loans Arena. These are great matchups, though, and clearly the NBA is trying to pump them up into full-on rivalries.
Other notable opening week games:
San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder, Wednesday, Oct. 28
Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Clippers, Thursday, Oct. 29
Miami Heat at Cleveland Cavaliers, Friday, Oct. 30
Warriors at Houston Rockets, Saturday, Oct. 31
When taking a survey of the regular-season games worth watching, it’s a little sad to see how many of them come from the Western Conference. This obviously makes sense, but the disparity is enough to make you yearn for an improved Eastern Conference this year, finally. (Or yearn for a real structural overhaul of the playoff format!)
The premier matchup in this year’s East, outside of Cleveland-Chicago, might be Cleveland-Miami, as LeBron’s departure still stings Pat Riley and Heat fans, and Cleveland has taken their place as the resident favorite in the conference. The first matchup gives Miami a chance to set the tone for subsequent meetings between the two teams and prove that their intriguing new mix of veterans works better as whole than its seemingly thrown-together individual parts.
The other early matchups out West are what they are: great teams playing great games, and with a little bit of history thrown in the mix. All of the Mavs-Clippers matchups should be fun this year, while Spurs-Thunder and Warriors-Rockets are matchups featuring contenders that have become rivals.
The Christmas day schedule mercifully excluded the Knicks, which helped result in some strong games that should actually be entertaining throughout the day.
Pelicans at Heat, noon
Bulls at Thunder, 2:30 pm
Cavaliers at Warriors, 5 pm
Spurs at Rockets, 8 pm
Los Angeles Lakers at Clippers, 10:30 pm
That’s three good-looking interconference matchups, including a Finals rematch that should actually feature Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Spurs-Rockets should be a great game of the contending Texas teams, and then there’s Lakers-Clippers, which might not be a great game, but could give fans their last look at Kobe Bryant in uniform on Christmas Day.
Here’s a quick rundown of some other interesting matchups throughout the season:
Nov. 7: Rockets at Clippers – the last time these two teams saw each other, the Clippers were blowing a 3-1 series lead in the conference semi-finals
Nov. 10: Thunder at Wizards – the first matchup between Durant and his hometown team in a year that will be full of speculation about his upcoming free agency in 2016
Nov. 11: Clippers at Mavericks – the first time DeAndre Jordan will have to travel to Dallas to face the franchise and fans he spurned to stay in LA
Nov. 11: Spurs at Trail Blazers – the first time that this year’s biggest free agent, LaMarcus Aldridge, will return to Portland where he spent the first nine years of his career.
Nov. 21: Hawks at Cavaliers – the first opportunity for last year’s conference darling to redeem themselves after getting shellacked by the Cavs in the conference finals
Jan 5: Kings at Mavericks – the first time Rajon Rondo will make what will surely be an unwelcome return to Dallas; hopefully Mavs fans have some spite left in them post-DAJ visit
Jan. 29: Rockets at Thunder – any time James Harden returns to OKC, it’s a good time, especially in the wake of the Thunder’s offseason decision to max out Enes Kanter