The NBA is back, with a tentative deal in place that will create a 66 game season that starts on Christmas. We’ve seen shortened NBA seasons before because of a lockout. That 50-game season back in 1999 was less than spectacular. There were a lot of injuries and lots of bad basketball. It did not help the NBA forge ahead in the first year after Michael Jordan.
The players appear to be doing their part to avoid some of these problems. There are not stories of players letting themselves go and not committing to training and staying in shape. There are sure to be a few, but the players know more of what is at stake and how ready they need to be for when the season starts. The players have been preparing for this catastrophe for a few years at least, knowing full well what would be at stake business-wise in these negotiations.
There is a rush to get playing again. And that is completely understandable. We all want to see NBA basketball as soon as possible. What would the 66-game schedule look like though? More importantly how much credit can we give the results from a 66-game schedule? Or for any shortened schedule for that matter?
The scary part is that the standings did not change much after the 66-game mark (about March 15, 2011):
There was little movement in the top eight in each conference. The 16 playoff teams were set and except for Boston falling to the three seed, Philadelphia and New York swapping places, the Lakers claiming the second seed (a lot of good that did them) and New Orleans swapping spots with Portland. There was not a lot of change at the 66-game mark. So, as far as the results of the season would go, it does not seem like there would be that much change.
In 2010, 15 of the 16 playoff teams were in postseason position at March 15, 2010 (about 67 games). Only Chicago replaced Toronto in the postseason at that point.
Obviously there is a lot of variability in the postseason races for the eight and nine teams that would change from year to year. But despite all that, the teams that sat in eighth on this day were the ones that ended up winning it. That is either really bizarre, or really telling.
So there might be something to this 66-game schedule idea.
Of course the next major concern, and what the NBA is really hoping to avoid, is the accelerated nature of the shortened season.
In 1999, the NBA played 50 regular season games in four months. From February 5 until May 5, each team played 50 games. That comes out to one game every 0.56 days. The 2010-11 season averaged out to a game every 0.48 days. Think about it, then, the lockout-shortened 1999 season saw a 17 percent increase in the frequency of games.
Nobody is quite sure how the scheduling for a 66-game season would work. Would the league try to end the season on time in mid-April or would the league extend the season into May like it did in 1999? These are big questions.
What may be a bigger issue than the frequency of games is how long the league gives to coaches to whip the players into game shape. As much as the players are preparing for the season, they are not preparing for games like a good, old-fashioned training camp would. Coaches will have to mix up rotations to make sure players remain fresh.
There are going to be different issues that coaches will have to battle through in this shortened season.
There really is no comparison for what a proposed 66-game schedule would look like. The NBA has not played a 66-game regular season since 1952. That would be a fun way to celebrate that 50 year anniversary, right?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.