Tuesday, March 21 2023
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During a full slate of NBA games Wednesday night, there was only one matchup that had the potential to feature two players who have both won back-to-back MVPs. It was neither of the nationally televised games, though both of those matchups had their own built-in storylines as part of the league’s “Rivals Week.” It was the Denver Nuggets against the Milwaukee Bucks, where the two players who have combined to win the last four MVP awards were set to face off. But with the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic didn’t play, neither did Jamal Murray or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a 107-99 loss against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee. 

It zapped all of the excitement out of what could’ve been one of the most thrilling matchups this season, especially considering both teams rank at or near the top of each conference. With a matchup like that, as rare as it happens every year, you would think the league would want to market it and make sure both teams were well rested before they meet. At least, that’s what Nuggets coach Mike Malone thought Wednesday night.

“The league has an impossible job [in schedule making], you’re not gonna keep 30 teams happy with the schedule,” Malone said after the game. “But with that being said, I think Philadelphia played tonight, they don’t play again until Saturday I believe. We played tonight, we don’t play again until Saturday. They’re setting that game up for Nikola Jokic vs. Joel Embiid, so those players will likely be available. 

“To your point this is a team, in the last five years, Milwaukee’s won more games than anybody. We’ve won more games than anybody in the Western Conference. Giannis is a two-time MVP. Nikola is a two-time MVP. To have this game on a second night of a back-to-back, not a national television game, and a lot of our guys weren’t able to play tonight, you would hope that they would set this game up to be a little bit more of a marquee matchup. But again that’s easy for us to say. Whoever does that in the league office, that is an unenviable task because no one is ever happy with it.”

The solution to all of this is to shorten the schedule. If the NBA shortened the schedule in a way that would eliminate most back-to-backs, then there likely wouldn’t be these instances of star players sitting out of high-profile matchups. They could also afford to spread out some of these marquee meetings on different days so that a Giannis vs. Jokic contest gets its proper shine while also still airing a Warriors vs. Grizzlies or Sixers vs. Nets game. 

It’s true, there’s tons of logistics to figure out in order to make it work, the main sticking point being that owners and players could lose out on money if there are fewer games. 

None of this is new or profound information, as a potentially shortened season has been a major talking point about the league for years now. Just last week Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he’ll “continue to advocate for 72-game seasons” right after announcing that the team was resting four of its starters on the second night of a back-to-back.

“It’s proven that if guys are banged up, back-to-backs, players are much more likely to get injured and miss more games and so that’s why you’re seeing it league-wide,” Kerr said. “Everybody is being cautious when a guy is banged up. You’re just playing the long game… We’re going to play it safe all year long as long as guys are banged up and vulnerable to injury.”

A 72-game schedule is a starting point, but likely wouldn’t eliminate all back-to-backs. I suggest a 58-game schedule where every team plays each other twice. That likely will never happen just because of the amount of money at stake, but it’s something the NBA should consider if it wants to cut down on players taking nights off just to rest. 

This isn’t something that will get figured out overnight, and right now the league is more focused on adding games to the calendar by creating a midseason tournament. That’s in addition to the play-in round that tacks at least one extra game for eight teams. Perhaps it’ll be a topic of discussion for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is set to expire after the 2023-24 season. Until then, we’ll just have to keep watching some of these one-sided games where the star players rest after playing the night before. 

Source: CBSSports.com


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