West Side: Let's play only 78
No reason to sit starters if NBA scales back regular season by four games
J.A. Adande and Israel Gutierrez are teaming up this season for a look at the NBA from two perspectives, called West Side/East Side. Today's edition looks at the length of the NBA season.
David Stern wouldn't be forced to uphold the charade that every regular-season game matters if the NBA didn't maintain the myth that they need to keep an 82-game season.
Shorten the season and you remove the frequency of the situation Gregg Popovich found himself in last week, when he sent four starters home before a game in Miami against the Heat rather than run them through their fourth game in five nights.
Not only has the idea of reducing the season never taken flight, it has never even pushed back from the gate. It's immediately shot down because it would reduce revenue, which would never be allowed to happen.
Except for one thing: Cutting four games wouldn't represent a true cutback. It actually would maintain and preserve what used to exist before the slow, stealthy expansion of the NBA postseason.
Gregg Popovich's decision to rest his players in Miami has some calling for a shorter season. Not Israel Gutierrez. East Side »
The maximum number of games in a first-round playoff series has expanded from three to seven since 1983 -- there's four games -- and the number of participants in the first round has doubled from eight to 16. Yes, there's a minimum of four games for eight more teams.
Take the Los Angeles Lakers, for example. Their 1981-82 team played 16 postseason games to win the championship. Their 2009-10 championship squad played 23 postseason games.
In 1983, eight teams played a total of 10 first-round playoff games. Last season, 16 teams played a total of 44 first-round games. There has been a postseason explosion, a boon in games that are more competitive and draw larger audiences. More than half the teams in the league are playing more games than they used to. That's more than enough to offset the loss of a Pistons-Raptors or Kings-Hornets matchup that serves as additional calories.
The best part of cutting four games per team is that it doesn't require fewer broadcasts from the league's network partners. ESPN/ABC and Turner could still get the same amount of programming for their $930 million a season.
The downside is less gate receipts and a smaller revenue from the local television and radio deals for each team. But even that has a bonus: The only way to make it up is to make the playoffs. There'd be more incentive to go for that eighth playoff spot instead of tanking into the lottery.
Slightly lower team revenue means slightly lower payouts for the players. The way the union could get its constituents to sign off would be to adopt the long-term view: less wear and tear on the body can help prolong a career. Forty games saved over 10 years amounts to half a season. Ask a 30-year-old NBA veteran what he'd give to have 40 games' worth of pounding on the court restored to his knees.
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The logistics of a 78-game season are easy to implement. Every team plays four games against its divisional opponents, two games against every team in the opposing conference, and a rotating mix of four and three games against the teams in the two other divisions in its conference.
Here's how that could help the Los Angeles Clippers, for example, this season.
The Clippers play away-and-home games against the Portland Trail Blazers with start times not even a full 24 hours apart on Jan. 26 and 27. The second game will be the Clippers' fifth game in four cities in seven days. How energized do you expect them to be for that contest? Just take it off the schedule.
Take away the April 12 game against the Hornets, too. Now the Clippers are spared from taking on the Memphis Grizzlies on April 13 on the second night of a back-to-back.
And after playing the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on Christmas, do they really need to play them in Denver on Jan. 1, to start a stretch of four games in five nights to begin the new year?
As long as their home game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 22 isn't going to be on ESPN or TNT, might as well take away that one as well. Another back-to-back gone.
Do the same for a team such as the Spurs and Popovich wouldn't need to look for spots to rest his veterans and Stern wouldn't feel the need to hit up the Spurs for a quarter million bucks. Sure, the whole episode provided great debate fodder. But this is the NBA; there will always be something to talk about.
Even if there are fewer games in the season.