Magic Will Have to Overcome Rest Disadvantage As They Look For Fourth Straight Win

by John Denton

SAN ANTONIO – When the NBA schedule was released in August, the Orlando Magic had to be initially delighted to see that they had just 11 back-to-back sets of games – tied for the fewest in the NBA this season and the lowest number in the 31-year history of the franchise.

However, what the Magic couldn’t have possibly known at the time – but have since found out in several tough-luck instances this season – is that not all NBA back-to-backs are created equally and there’s often a large inequity in terms of rest advantages and disadvantages with the teams involved.

Of those 11 scheduled back-to-backs, the Magic (27-32) will complete the 10thof them tonight when they face the well-rested Spurs (24-33) in San Antonio. Of course, the Magic will be at a major rest disadvantage tonight after having beaten Minnesota 136-125 in Orlando and then having to travel to Texas where they didn’t arrive in their downtown San Antonio hotel rooms until 1:30 a.m. CT. The Spurs, meanwhile, haven’t played since Wednesday in Dallas.

In 10 of their 11 back-to-backs this season, the Magic will find themselves at major rest disadvantages – meaning that while they are playing on the second night of a back-to-back, their foe will have had at least one night of rest. In six of those 10 instances, Orlando’s opponent will have at least two days to rest up before playing the Magic.

Such is the life in the NBA, where rest advantages and disadvantages over the course of the marathon-like 82-game schedule often play major roles in the outcomes of games. The Magic are hardly alone in the NBA with these issues as the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami, San Antonio, New York are tied with the Magic with 10 rest disadvantages games this season. Five teams (Portland, Detroit, Denver, Dallas and Boston) have 11 rest disadvantages built into their schedules, three (Washington, Golden State and Atlanta) have 12 rest disadvantages and two (Phoenix and Cleveland) have 13 instances when they will have rest disadvantages.

Of their first nine back-to-backs this season, the Magic have been at a true rest disadvantage eight times already and a ninth instance will come tonight. Not surprisingly, the Magic are 1-7 when they are playing on the second night of back-to-backs and their opponent has had either one or two nights off to prepare. When it is playing on the second night of a back-to-back and its opponent has had two nights off, Orlando is 0-4. When the Magic are playing on the second night of a back-to-back and their opponent has one night of rest, they are 1-3. The Magic’s lone victory of the season on the second night of a back-to-back came on Dec. 4 against Phoenix.

``This is our 10th(back-to-back), I believe, right, and only once so far has the other team not rested, which is a little baffling to me,’’ said Magic coach Steve Clifford, referring to Orlando’s Dec. 28 loss at Milwaukee when the Bucks were also playing on the second night of a back-to-back. ``The other thing is – and this is just luck of the draw – look at the quality of the competition (on the second night of back-to-backs). I looked at this (on Friday) … So, we’ve played Utah, Denver, Milwaukee, Miami away. We’ve ended up playing really good teams and they’ve been rested, and we haven’t been (rested). That’s just the luck of the draw. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen, though, where we’ve played nine (back-to-backs) and only once did the other team play the night before, too. It’s, obviously, a big advantage.’’

Needless to say, a San Antonio team with the previous two nights off should have a major advantage tonight facing a weary Magic team that had to fly 2 hours and 40 minutes to South Texas after beating Minnesota. Orlando, which will be playing for the fourth time in six nights, has won three games in a row and five of six to surge past the Brooklyn Nets and into the No. 7 seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings.

A sixth instance where the Magic will be playing a back-to-back and facing a well-rested squad will come on April 10 and 11. After hosting the Boston Celtics on April 10, Orlando will fly to Indiana to face a Pacers team that will have had two days off to prepare for the game.

Based on some of the raw data to come out of the release of the schedule in August, the Magic should have known going into the season that there would be several major rest-disadvantage issues ahead despite their low number of back-to-backs.

Seven teams (Orlando, Milwaukee, Indiana, Brooklyn, Houston, Golden State and Utah) were tied for the fewest number of back-to-backs at 11. Cleveland and Atlanta are playing the most back-to-backs this season with 14. The NBA has made reducing the number of back-to-backs a primary initiative, dropping the league average this season to 12.4 back-to-backs per team – down slightly from last season (13.3 per team) and down significantly from five seasons ago (19.3 per team).

But here’s where having a low number of back-to-backs isn’t necessarily working out in Orlando’s favor. Not only do the Magic have the fewest true rest advantages (at least two days off while facing a team on a back-to-back) in the NBA this season (five), they are tied for 15th with the most rest disadvantages (10), per PositiveResidual.com.

As mentioned previously, the Lakers, Clippers, Miami, San Antonio, New York and Orlando were tied with the Magic with 10 rest disadvantages this season. Five teams (Portland, Detroit, Denver, Dallas and Boston) have 11 rest disadvantages built into the schedule, three (Washington, Golden State and Atlanta) have 12 rest disadvantages and two (Phoenix and Cleveland) have 13 instances when they would be at a rest disadvantage.

New York (16), Phoenix (14) and the Los Angeles Clippers (13) have the most rest advantages – huge numbers compared to the Magic’s five rest advantages.

On the season, the Magic are 6-3 when they have a rest advantage of at least one day (9thin the NBA), but they are a dismal 3-11 when they are at a rest disadvantage (27th in the NBA). When there is no rest advantage with either team, the Magic are 18-18 (15th in the NBA).

A few prime examples of how much rest plays a factor in NBA games was seen in Magic games against the 76ers and Nuggets and in two games against the rival Heat. When the Magic hosted the Sixers on Nov. 13, they were coming off two days of rest, while Philadelphia won a home game against Cleveland the night before and then had to travel from Philadelphia to Central Florida. Predictably, fatigue caught up to Philadelphia in the fourth quarter – a period the more-rested Magic dominated 32-15 for a 112-97 victory.

Both Magic games against the Nuggets were on the second night of back-to-backs for Orlando, while Denver had a rest advantage each time. In the first meeting at the Amway Center, Denver was off the night before while the Magic were facing the Milwaukee Bucks and they fell 91-87 a night later to the Nuggets. When the two teams played again on Dec. 18, Denver came into the game with two nights of rest, while the Magic had dropped a hard-fought game a night earlier in Utah. Predictably, Orlando wilted in the second half, surrendered a 24-0 run and lost 113-104 to the Nuggets.

Rest advantages played key roles in two of the games between Orlando and Miami earlier this season. Miami beat Toronto in South Florida on Jan. 3 and had to play in Orlando a night later. In that showdown against the Magic, the Heat equaled a franchise low for points in a fourth quarter (six) as Orlando won going away, 105-85.

When the two teams met up again in late January, the Magic were the ones playing on the second night of a back-to-back, while the Heat were resting. While Miami was off, Orlando was facing the Los Angeles Clippers at home and then it had to travel to South Florida for the next night’s game. As expected, Miami had much more energy and zest in the second half and rolled to a 102-89 win.

While playing on the second night of back-to-backs hasn’t seemed to bother top teams such as Milwaukee (8-0), the Los Angeles Lakers (7-0), Denver (8-2), Philadelphia (8-2), others such as Orlando (1-8), New York (1-8), Atlanta (1-9) and Detroit (1-9) have struggled mightily in those situations. When playing its third game in four nights with the final one being on the second night of a back-to-back, Orlando has not only lost in six of those seven instances, but it also has had a minus-13.9 efficiency differential, according to NBAStuffer.com.

Clifford said because of injuries and other reasons, the Magic have no choice but to push their players through the tough parts of the schedule and hope for the best.

``To me, your best players have to be on the floor,’’ said Clifford, referring to other teams resting players or reducing their minutes in back-to-backs. ``If you have the type of team where you can start saying, `We’re playing a back-to-back and we’re going to give this guy and that guy some time (off) …’ then you have a really good roster. With our team right here, guys have to play their minutes, and when the subs go in, they’ve got to give us a chance. I’ve been around a couple of teams where you could mess around like that (with resting players). When you can mess around with your playing groups, you are going to win 53 or 55 games. But in my experiences, that’s just not the way it works.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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