Some NBA teams are going to have longer-than-usual road trips to certain cities this season.
The league released the schedule for the first half of its truncated 72-game season on Friday. The schedule includes something that hardly ever would have been the case in recent years — teams taking a trip someplace and playing two games there before moving on to another city or heading back home.
It’s by design, with the NBA doing so to limit the amount of actual travel this season as teams look for any edge in the quest to stay healthy during the coronavirus pandemic. Teams still play half of their games on the road, of course. But the mileage that teams save by playing twice in one place adds up quickly — examples included the Los Angeles Lakers playing twice at San Antonio in a three-day span on Dec. 30 and Jan. 1, and Toronto playing both of its road games for the season at Indiana on a back-to-back dates, Jan. 24 and 25.
The dreaded stretches of four games in five nights remain out of the schedule; the NBA did away with those in recent years to try to not overtax players and their bodies. Teams will take an average 7.5 road trips in the first half, which represents a 22% drop over the first 36 games of a usual schedule — and one-game trips have been cut nearly in half, down 44%.
As the NBA previously announced, opening night is Dec. 22 with two games: Golden State at Brooklyn and then the Los Angeles Clippers visiting the Los Angeles Lakers in the arena they share, a game where the Lakers are expected to display their new championship banner but without any fans in the building that night.
The other 26 teams all open the next day, including the Toronto Raptors, at their temporary home in Tampa, Florida for the first time when they host New Orleans. There are no games on Dec. 24, as is customary, and then the Christmas quintupleheader the following day.
The season will begin amid a spike in coronavirus cases around the country. The NBA had 48 players, almost 9%, test positive between Nov. 24 and Nov. 30 as teams returned to their home markets to prepare for the start of training camps.
Teams all got the first 37 or 38 games of their schedule Friday, those dates going through March 4. The league is expected to release the remainder of the schedule in February, with the regular season expected to go until mid-May.
The second half — which will include any games from the first half that get postponed and can be reasonably rescheduled — will be followed by the play-in tournament from May 18 through May 21. The playoffs start May 22.
Some other things to know about the schedule:
There are 10 games this year on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, including the traditional home games for Atlanta and Memphis.
The lineup for Jan. 18: Orlando at New York, Cleveland at Washington, Minnesota at Atlanta, Detroit at Miami, San Antonio at Portland, Phoenix at Memphis, Milwaukee at Brooklyn, Dallas vs. Toronto in Tampa, Houston at Chicago and Golden State at the Los Angeles Lakers.
There are five games scheduled for Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 7 — all tipping off between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Eastern, meaning they should all be done long before kickoff of the NFL title game in Tampa. The Raptors aren’t playing at their temporary Tampa home that day.
Miami plays the Lakers in an NBA Finals rematch in Los Angeles on Feb. 20; the Lakers won’t play at Miami until the second half of the season.
In a season that will seem different in many ways, one thing remains a constant: The Spurs’ rodeo road trip will continue for a 19th consecutive year.
The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo — scheduled for Feb. 11 through Feb. 28 — will not be held inside AT&T Center, the Spurs’ home building, and is moving to the adjacent Freeman Coliseum. But because the rodeo and other events use much of the parking around the arena, San Antonio asked to go back on the road over that stretch.
San Antonio has posted a losing record in only four of the 18 rodeo trips — three of those coming in the last three seasons. All-time, the Spurs are 93-54 on rodeo trips.
The Grammys are scheduled for Jan. 31 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, meaning the Clippers and Lakers also have some long trips awaiting them. The Clippers have a six-game trip from Jan. 26 through Feb. 3; the Lakers have a seven-game trip from Jan. 21 through Feb. 1.
The Lakers don’t have a trip to Washington scheduled in the season’s first half, so it remains unknown if they will visit the White House and be the first NBA champion to go there during President-elect Joe Biden’s administration that’ll begin Jan. 20.
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