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Will improvements to the NBA schedule be an investment in player health?

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Coach Steve Kerr’s decision to rest players for a televised game against the Spurs on March 11, 2017 has forced the league to make significant scheduling changes.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant hobbles to the podium to answer questions about his knee injury prior to a March 8, 2017 match-up against the Boston Celtics at Oracle Arena.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

It only took Zaza Pachulia clumsily stepping backward onto Kevin Durant’s foot, resulting in what was feared to be severe knee injury to Durant, for Warriors Coach Steve Kerr to start resting players.

Everything we know about sleep deprivation, travel fatigue and back-to-back games indicates Pachulia could have been asleep on his feet and Durant’s reaction time was potentially slowed.

Golden State had been handed the most horrendous road trip imaginable: “Over 9,500 miles traveled, 10 days, eight games total, seven away, six time zone changes [and] two sets of back-to-backs.” This stretch of the season was so bad that Kerr said he’d never seen anything like it during his entire time in the NBA, dating back to 1988.

It was during this stretch that Durant suffered the knee injury — a severe MCL sprain. When confronted with the likelihood that the schedule had contributed to the serious injury of a star player, Kerr had little concern that the March 11, 2017 game against the San Antonio Spurs was televised. He acknowledged the potential disappointment to fans but ultimately erred on the side of caution — and player health — by forcing guys to rest.

Back-to-backs and unreasonably long road trips, with little time between games, harms not only player health, but the outcome of games (and perhaps seasons).

The Warriors started the 2015-16 season winning 24 straight games. Then, they ended up on a seven-game road trip — the longest road trip of any team that season — during which a loss to the Bucks brought Golden State’s stellar start to an end.

What contributed to the loss?

Less than 24 hours before tipoff against the Bucks, Golden State had eked out a 124-119 double-overtime win against the Celtics — in Boston. Less than 24 hours between games is obviously unreasonable, especially when those games are played across time zones.

The decision for Kerr and other coaches to rest superstar players during the season drew the ire of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver — and broadcasters — who believe this strategy diminishes the NBA product. Silver mentioned the possibility of fines or other penalties for teams that rest healthy players ... which probably would not deter coaches from engaging in the practice if the NBA continued to crank out untenable schedules.

Thankfully, decisions to rest players during the 2016-17 season have forced the NBA to make improvements to the schedule and, for the first time, the players’ union will be privy to a review of the schedule before it is finalized.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, the following changes are in the works:

  • “Eliminating stretches of four games in five days and 18 games in 30 days.
  • Reduction of five games in seven nights to just 40 instances across (1.3 per team), down from last year when it was on the schedule 90 times (three per team).
  • Reduction in number of back-to-backs to 14.9 per team, down from 16.3 per team. In all, 40 back-to-backs have been eliminated from last season.
  • Reduction of single-game road trips by 17 percent.
  • Reduction in single-game road trips over 2,000 miles by 67 percent; there are only 11 of them on schedule.
  • Increase in weekend games from 549 to 568, much of the boost coming on Saturdays. Previously the NBA avoided Saturdays and Sunday afternoons during football season to dodge conflicts.
  • Teams that have seen versions of their schedules can petition the league for changes. However, the overall themes will stay intact.”

Let’s hope these changes have a dynamic real-life effect, so that coaches no longer feel a need to rest players. Because, unfortunately, the new schedule is reported to include consequences for noncompliance.


Now, without further delay, here’s your ...

National TV schedule for the 2017-18 NBA season

2017 NBA Christmas Day schedule