The NBA released its 2015-16 schedule on Wednesday, and in addition to offering some mark-these-on-your-calendar matchups, there were some broader notes to absorb. And because this is the middle of August, when brain-crampingly lame stories like Markieff Morris‘s cranky trade demand rules the news cycle, I think we can all agree that it’s nice to have something worthwhile to discuss.
Let us parse the scheduling details in search of takeaways.
The Birds Get Breaks
Things are setting up very nicely for the New Orleans Pelicans, who will head into more games with a rest advantage than any other team. According to Houston Rockets stat guru Ed Kupfer, the Pellies will be better rested than their opponents a league-high 28 times this year:
NBA 2016: Pelicans play 28 games more rested than their opps, most overall. Celtics have 15 games with more rest. pic.twitter.com/QXrjtNsbLI
— Ed Küpfer (@EdKupfer) August 12, 2015
With Anthony Davis primed to detonate in head coach Alvin Gentry’s (presumably) revved-up offense, there was already a decent chance New Orleans was going to make a push for the fourth or fifth seed in the West. Now, with this built-in advantage, that only looks likelier.
I, for one, welcome our new beaked overlords.
The Mixed Bag of a Champion
The Golden State Warriors, who you might remember from such successful seasons as last year’s 67-win, title-securing campaign, will play a franchise-record 25 contests on national television (ESPN, ABC, TNT) this season.
That’s good. Grow the brand, market the stars, flaunt the talent.
They’ll also play in a league-high (tied with four other teams) 20 back-t0-back sets.
Studies on the effects of back-to-back games and rest in general were all the rage during the 2014-15 season, and all that intellectual effort yielded objective results that fell in line with what most have long suspected: Teams play worse when they’re tired.
Here’s the thing, though: The Warriors are going to be good enough to take a few nights off. They’re not likely to win another 67 games under any circumstances — that’s a historically high victory total we may not see again for a while — but they’re easily among the two or three favorites to win the West. Knowing that, we should expect the Dubs to rest key players liberally this year.
That’s right. They’re going full Spurs.
Even last season, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut got the “DNP-Rest” treatment a handful of times. That’ll happen more this year, and don’t be surprised when Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson also sit out the occasional back-to-backer.
The league may not be happy about that, as those players are part of the reason Golden State is slated to play so many nationally televised games. People want to see them.
But the Warriors won’t care. They’ve got bigger, repeat-related goals in mind.
Houston Rockets Travel, Jokes Write Themselves
This year, James Harden will travel a lot.
“What else is new?,” you’re cynically wondering.
Harden has exploited the gather rule better than anybody in NBA history. He appears to travel dozens of times per game, but the timing with which he picks up the ball (and the unwillingness of officials to put a stop to this charade) means he’s rarely whistled for steps.
That’s a discussion for another time, and it’s not the kind of traveling we’re talking about anyway.
No word yet on whether Harden will actually cover more than that distance without dribbling in 2015-16.
More Rest News
Last season, teams played four games in five nights on 70 different occasions. That number drops to 27 this year, which gives the clearest signal yet that the NBA is paying attention to the studies on rest.
For players, this could mean fewer fatigue-related injuries.
For fans, it means a better on-court product.
This is a win across the board, and the only thing better would be simply shortening the season so every game could be played without the negative impact of too little recovery time. Of course, there are 24 billion reasons why that’ll never happen.
But it’s fun to dream.
They Almost Saved Christmas
So close, schedule-makers. So close.
90 percent of the participants in the NBA’s annual Christmas Day sports monopoly will be worth watching. Check out the Dec. 25 schedule and try to guess which outlier prevents a perfect Yuletide basketball watchability score:
- New Orleans at Miami (ESPN)
- Chicago at Oklahoma City (ABC)
- Cleveland at Golden State (ABC)
- San Antonio at Houston (ESPN)
- Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers (ESPN)
Yep, the Lakers are grinching things up again.
At least the Knicks aren’t involved, which qualifies as a Christmas miracle.