Assessing the Schedule Change
Heading into the 2015-16 season, the NBA made significant changes to the schedule for each team. The league wanted to address player safety and opted to make a dramatic change in how frequently teams played.
Since taking over as commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has publicly expressed a desire to make a number of tweaks to the league. Silver has mentioned cutting down the length of preseason, readdressing the lottery system and possibly changing the current playoff format.
However, one of the biggest areas of concern for Silver was player health and safety. The league heard concerns from the players and cut down the amount of back-to-back games teams played in, as well as stretches of four games in five nights.
As a result, teams are playing all-time lows in back-to-back games and four games in five nights scenarios. The total number of four games in five nights are down from 70 last season to a total of 27 such instances this season. No team will play more than two stretches of four games in five nights, which is down a staggering 61 percent from last season.
Back-to-back games are down from an average of 19.3 per team last season to 17.8 this season. Several teams will play in a league-low 14 back-to-back sets, while no team has more than 20 such situations.
The idea to change the schedule was first brought up in the Board of Governors meeting last April. Given all of the factors that play into creating an 82-game schedule for every team, instituting such a dramatic change in such a short period of time is the result of hard work from the league.
“I think all teams are taking precautionary measures,” Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap told Basketball Insiders. “They invest a lot of money into their players, so I think it’s in their best interest. I think they’re smart enough to understand that and to take care of players’ bodies and be aware of fatigue or health issues.
“There’s been changes. I think [the schedule is] spaced out a little bit more, but the schedule is still what it is. There are still 82 games, including the preseason. It’s a long season, regardless of back-to-backs or no back-to-backs.”
The rise in four games in five nights last season was said to be from the league extending the All-Star break to a full week. Prior to the change, the All-Star break lasted only about four days long. In order to accommodate the change this season, more games are being played on Thursdays and Sundays.
In addition to playing more games on Thursday and Saturday, Silver has also talked about shortening the preseason in order to help with easing the regular schedule. Currently, teams play eight preseason games each.
An exact plan has yet to be unveiled regarding the preseason, but Silver has said the league and players will meet to discuss their options. The league operates on a 170-day schedule, so shortening or extending the regular season will have financial implications that will need to be ironed out during bargaining sessions with players.
Changing the schedule around will ultimately help keep a fresh product on the floor, which will translate to a more entertaining game for fans. Teams are traveling more efficiently this season as back-to-back games that cross a time zone have been cut by 18 percent, while long distance back-to-backs have been reduced by 25 percent.
“The back-to-backs aren’t as bad, but the four in five nights can be tough sometimes,” Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “I think product-wise, if you want a good product out there, you want to make sure guys are fresh and maybe it saves injuries – you never know.
“The fans are paying their money and they want that product to be good. Mr. Silver has done a lot of great things and I’m sure will look at everything. It’s all about growing the game and protecting the product out there and making sure guys are healthy and the best they can be.”
Following the change to the regular season schedule, the league also tweaked the format for the Finals to allow more recovery time. Teams playing in the Finals will now receive two days off in between games in which travel is required. Prior to the change, Finals games were only played on Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday.
With the first season underway in the new schedule format, some players and teams really haven’t noticed too much change yet. They remain locked into playing and taking the season one game at a time.
“I don’t really pay attention to the schedule other than to see how many days you’ll be home for or how long you’ll be on the road for and how long you need to pack,” Washington Wizards guard John Wall told Basketball Insiders.
“Other than that, we just go out there and compete. If it’s back-to-backs or if it’s not, we just know we got to go out there and compete for every game. That’s all you can do is put your hard hat on and go compete.”
Other teams, such as the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic, may not have noticed the change given their overseas game last month. The two teams played each other in London on January 14 as a part of the NBA Global Games 2015-16.
Given the long-distance travel and the time change associated with playing in London, both teams played just one game in a nine-day span, which further compressed the rest of their schedule. The Magic will face 19 sets of back-to-back games this season, while the Raptors will play in 17 such sets.
“For us, it seems like back-to-backs get more and more consistent just because we had that London trip,” Magic center Jason Smith told Basketball Insiders. “Overall, they’ve tried to extend the season and extend All-Star break to give us more time to try and recover. It’s a grueling schedule and you just got to keep on going.
“It gives you that sense of they’re trying to make sure the product stays [high quality] out there. You want to give the fans as best product out there as you can and try to eliminate those back-to-backs. Hopefully, us as players, taking care of our bodies, eating right and getting rest helps that.”
It seems as though most players are appreciative of the measures the NBA has taken in protecting its product. They have praised Commissioner Silver and the steps the league has taken in addressing health concerns.
The NBA season is a long and grueling process, and it’s only further complicated when factoring in preseason and playoff games. Player health has become a hot-button issue across all American sports and it seems like the NBA has been proactive in their approach, rather than being reactive.
Knicks Looking to Make Deadline Deal
At a press conference on Monday, New York Knicks president Phil Jackson said the team will be looking to improve with the trade deadline looming next Thursday. Jackson spoke regarding the firing of head coach Derek Fisher, while also addressing the improvements he would like to make.
“We’re looking to improve this ballclub, there’s no doubt,” Jackson said, according to ESPN. “We know that we have some good guys. The chemistry is pretty good. The talent can still be better. It always can, so we’re looking.
“Like any team looking to improve themselves, we are open to discussion. We have to be. That is just the way of the nature of the game.”
While Jackson wouldn’t specify what the team is looking to acquire, the Knicks have been said to be seeking to upgrade the point guard position. The team has been linked with Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and Detroit Pistons point guard Brandon Jennings as potential targets.
Jackson acknowledged the team doesn’t have many attractive assets they’d be able to offer in a potential deal, but added that they are weighing all of their options.
It would also seem likely that the team will be cautious when discussing their options. Jackson said that after Carmelo Anthony (no-trade clause), the team likely wouldn’t part ways with rookie Kristaps Porzingis.
Depending on how some player options pan out, the Knicks could be looking at having as much as $31.4 million in cap space this summer. If they miss out on a trade this season, they can also look at bringing in some players through free agency.
Notable point guards like Rajon Rondo, Mike Conley, Ty Lawson and Jordan Clarkson could all be free agents this summer, if the Knicks are seeking a point guard.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.
PODCAST: Breaking Down The Western Conference Playoff Race
Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte break down the Western Conference playoff race and check in on the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.