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New schedule likely to be at same pace as after last lockout

Posted Nov 27 2011 2:33AM - Updated Nov 28 2011 4:39PM

Tentative details from the NBA

It came a few months after we would have liked, but a "tentative understanding" is finally in place.

There is still a lot of work to be done before teams can open their gyms to their players, but the league has set a goal of starting training camps on Dec. 9. That leaves 16 days to sign free agents and prepare for the regular season start on Dec. 25.

A full schedule will be published soon, but the NBA revealed some details Sunday, with the assumption that the "tentative understanding" will evolve into a full collective bargaining agreement without any serious hiccups.

Before the season begins, you can expect teams to play just two preseason games during that 16-day training camp. Expect, as well, for those games to be played between the teams closest to each other on the map.

For the first time in NBA history, opening night and the marquee Christmas Day slate will be one and the same. Very likely, that schedule will be the same triple-header that was revealed back on July 19.

So we'll tip off the season with the Celtics and Knicks at the renovated Madison Square Garden, followed by the Mavs raising their championship banner in front of the Heat and then, the Bulls visit the Lakers in Mike Brown's first game on the bench in L.A.

But that may be the only day on the schedule that doesn't change. With each team playing 66 games -- 33 at the home and 33 on the road -- the whole schedule needs to be redone.

Most, if not all, of the remaining 24 teams will begin their season on Dec. 26, and not necessarily in the same location that they're currently scheduled to play in.

The league decided to maintain a schedule that leans heavy toward intra-conference games, so teams will play only 18 of their 66 games against the opposite conference. That means that fans of six Western Conference teams will be deprived the opportunity of showing their distaste for the Heat, and six Eastern Conference arenas won't get to see the Lakers.

In the lockout-shortened season of 1999, the playoffs didn't start until May 9. This season, the postseason is being pushed back just a week, with the first round set to begin on Saturday, April 28.

Usually, the regular season ends on a Wednesday. But this season, it will be stretched one more day until Thursday, April 26, with just one off day before the playoffs begin. (Scouts and video coordinators will be praying that their team knows its first-round matchup before the last day of the season.)

Dec. 25 to April 26. That's 123 days. Subtract four days (Feb. 24-27) for All-Star weekend in Orlando and you have 119 days to play 990 games.

Schedule pace

Season G/Team Total G Days G/Day Team G/Week
Normal 82 1,230 *166 7.4 3.5
1998-99 50 725 90 8.1 3.9
2011-12 66 990 *119 8.3 3.9
* Four days removed for All-Star weekend

That number assumes that games will be played Monday, April 2 -- the night of the NCAA national championship game. The league hasn't played on the same night as the title game since 2004, but this season, it's likely that no day can be sacrificed.

A total of 990 games over 119 days works out to 8.3 games per day. More than half of the league will be in action on the average day over those two months and each team will play an average of 3.9 games per week. That's exactly the same pace as was played in the 50-game season in 1999. Compared to an 82-game season, it means an extra game every two weeks.

That '99 season was the ugliest in NBA history, and it included situations where teams played three nights in a row. This season, each team will play at least one (and as many as three) back-to-back-to-back sets.

Such a fast pace isn't ideal. But obviously, maximizing each team's revenue and each player's salary is the bigger priority. More games mean more money for both the players and owners from ticket sales and television contracts.

The playoffs won't be affected as much as the regular season. League officals say there's a possibility of back-to-back games in the conference semifinals (as there were in '99), something that probably depends on how long the first round goes. If we have eight first-round series that end in five games or less, back-to-backs probably won't be necessary in the conference semis.

There's a conception that the first round typically takes too long to play, with series having multiple off days between some games. But last year's first round was scheduled over just 16 days. And having each series play every other day (four games every night) would have reduced that timeline by only 48 hours.

The Finals will begin on Tuesday, June 12 and would end on Tuesday, June 26 should the series go seven games. And if it does, there will be very little turnaround before the 2012 NBA Draft takes place on Thursday, June 28. The draft will likely take place at the Prudential Center in Newark again (with MSG undergoing a second of three summers of renovation), but a league source says that the location hasn't been finalized.

One last question regarding the schedule is whether or not the league will cancel two games in London between the New Jersey Nets and Orlando Magic. Those games were to take place March 7 and 9, with both teams having a few days off before and after to accommodate for travel and promotion. That trip would make the Magic and Nets' schedules even more compressed, so logic says that it won't be happening.

The only real domino effect of the playoff push-back would be very little rest for any Olympians who make it to The Finals. With the Olympics set to tip off on July 28, national teams will be starting training camps in early July.

Of course, rest and practice time will both be at a premium all season long. But a 66-game schedule allows teams to recover from a slow start and withstand injuries that are relatively minor.

And for fans, 990 games in the next five months should help make up for the frustration of the last five months.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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