Carmelo Anthony’s return to Denver is delayed for another year. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade won’t be visiting Sacramento anytime soon. Fans in Chicago will only be seeing Kobe Bryant on television this season.
The NBA sought competitive balance. What it got was schedule imbalance.
One of the many consequences of the lockout, besides hundreds of lost games and hundreds of millions of lost dollars, was the tradition that every team plays in every NBA city at least once per season. That’s not the case this year.
While teams will visit every other team in their own conference, they will only make trips to play nine clubs from the other side of the league instead of the usual 15.
It’s one of many quirks of a 66-game schedule that, in a variety of ways, is not like any other in NBA history.
“In some cases, the team business-type might complain that they didn’t get (to host) the Heat or the Lakers,” NBA Commissioner David Stern said. “While in the background, the coach is doing cartwheels. So it’s kind of an interesting dynamic.”
There’s no shortage of those.
Reigning scoring king Kevin Durant dropped 66 points in New York earlier this year — alas, at Rucker Park, the fabled outdoor court and not Madison Square Garden. He and Oklahoma City won’t be going to play the Knicks this season.
The NBA champion Dallas Mavericks won’t be going to Charlotte, nor will Durant’s Thunder, Bryant’s Lakers or the Spurs, and that will keep ticket dollars from finding Bobcats owner Michael Jordan’s pockets.
Teams won’t be playing the same number of divisional games, so get ready for complaining should tiebreakers come into play when determining playoff seeding. And many small market teams will be miss out on some guaranteed sellouts against some elite clubs that might hurt in the standings but help with the bottom line.
“That’s what happens when you have a lockout,” Durant said.
When Magic coach Stan Van Gundy heard the league was putting together a 66-game slate instead of the usual 82-game run, he figured the breakdown was simple: Play every team in your division four times, then face every other team home and away.
That seemed easy enough.
Instead, it’s complicated.
“I’m not being critical of it,” Van Gundy said. “They’ve got a short period of time to play 66 games and there were a lot of factors they had to consider and I’m sure that they did it the best way that they could.”
True, but there is some zaniness.
Atlanta takes a trip that has the Hawks going north, then south, then north, then west, then east, then west and then home again, all in the span of nine days. Cleveland has a nine-game February homestand. San Antonio goes nearly four weeks without a home game. The Kings close the first half of their schedule with 20 of 28 away from Sacramento, daunting for a team desperate to keep fans engaged while trying to get a new arena. Denver plays nine in a row at home in one stretch, then immediately hits the road for seven straight.
But there’s no Anthony homecoming in Denver.
“Did it bother me? Not really,” said Anthony, now with the Knicks. “I mean, I would love to go back and play there. The reaction I would get, who knows? I might get some boos, I might get some claps, but it’d have been fun.”
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman was thrilled to see his club opens with six of seven at home. And then he looked who those early opponents are — the first four clubs to visit the Timberwolves are Oklahoma City, Miami, Dallas and San Antonio.
“It’s a challenge for us,” Adelman said. “If we come out and we’re ready to go, and we can knock some of these people off, it’s just going to be better for us.”
The Wolves don’t host Atlanta, Milwaukee, New Jersey, Orlando, Toronto and Washington, teams that perhaps don’t inspire the casual fan to run down on game night to check them out, but could be winnable games. They also don’t travel to Boston, Chicago, Miami or New York. From a competitive standpoint, not having to play those teams on the road is great for the Wolves. But from a player experience standpoint, the Wolves don’t sound thrilled.
“I think we don’t go to Miami and Chicago. … That’s a little sad,” eagerly anticipated guard Ricky Rubio said.
With this kind of schedule, youth might be served. Washington is expected to open the year with 10 players on the team age 25 or younger. So on those back-to-back-to-back nights, the Wizards might have a touch more spring in their collective step than some other clubs.
“It reminds me of an AAU season — playing five games in one day,” Wizards guard John Wall said. “It can be tough at times, but I think it can help us.”
In past years, playing four games in five nights would be considered the worst of the schedule grind.
It’s worse this year.
Not only will every team have at least one stretch of playing three games in three nights, but there will also be times when teams play eight games in 11 days. If a key player rolls an ankle, certainly a common issue in the NBA, at a particularly busy time in the schedule, a team could find itself without a key player for maybe 20 percent of the season. And with all those games in such a short span, this much is guaranteed: There will be nights when some teams will know the odds are stacked very, very highly against them, when they’re the weary-legged club against a team that’s had a couple of days off to freshen up.
“There will be nights when you’ll be like, ‘OK, well, let’s just go try and see what happens,’” Wade said. “It’s not going to be easy. For anyone.”