Brandon Ingram is surrounded by defenders at Utah, where New Orleans has a two-game series

Pelicans 2021-22 schedule notebook: Back-to-backs reduced, ‘baseball series’ return, 15 national TV games

by Jim Eichenhofer

Expect the unexpected. If there were an unofficial theme to the 2020-21 NBA season, those three words would’ve been fitting, particularly during the playoffs, when a series of upsets and dramatic finishes culminated with Milwaukee winning its first NBA championship in 50 years. The Bucks went from getting knocked out of the 2020 bubble in the second round to earning a ring in July 2021, while their Finals opponent Phoenix captured the Western Conference crown after missing the playoffs for 10 straight years.

Meanwhile, the previous year’s NBA champions, the Los Angeles Lakers, got eliminated in the postseason’s first round in 2021. Miami, which won the East in the Orlando bubble, this time got swept in Round 1. Clubs like Atlanta and New York went from not even getting invited to the NBA’s 2020 restart to qualifying for the East finals and earning a No. 4 seed, respectively.

New Orleans would love to produce its own narrative-changing turnaround in 2021-22, but will need to play much better both at home (18-18 in 2020-21) and on the road (13-23) during the upcoming 82-game schedule. After two seasons of logistical challenges brought about by the pandemic, the NBA is returning to its conventional format and timeframe for the regular season, starting in October and concluding in mid-April. As opposed to the 72-game sprint of 2020-21, the 2021-22 campaign is back to a familiar pattern, with fewer obstacles in terms of rest and travel. The Pelicans only have 13 back-to-backs scheduled, which may be the fewest in team history. Among those 13 sets, just seven involve travel, because six of them are either back-to-backs in the Smoothie King Center (five times), or part of a “baseball series” (once) on the road. …

Speaking of “baseball series” in which two NBA teams play consecutive games in the same venue, New Orleans has two of those scheduled in 2021-22, both during the early portion of the regular season. The Pelicans will play at Minnesota on Oct. 23 and 25, as well as at Utah on Nov. 26-27. By allowing teams to play the same opponent consecutively, the NBA has again effectively reduced travel and fatigue, in this case meaning that New Orleans makes one trek to Salt Lake City, for example, instead of two. That trip is 1,700-plus miles. …

New Orleans will make 10 national TV appearances on ESPN and TNT (plus five other games airing on NBA TV). The majority of the ESPN/TNT telecasts are taking place on the road. The Pelicans have three home games on those networks, all against the East (Atlanta, Milwaukee and Miami), while there are seven road tilts (Phoenix, Golden State, New York, Denver twice, Lakers, Memphis).

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