In future seasons, it won’t be a surprise if NBA fans get nostalgic about the lockout, longing for the days of unreasonable demands, boorish behaviour and endless bickering.
That’s because they are likely to like the season the lockout created, one that – barring another work stoppage way down the line – there’s little chance they will see again.
The specifics of the 2011-12 schedule might not be released until next week, but the parameters are in place: 990 total games, 66 a team, commencing with a Christmas Day triple-header showcase. Each team will play 48 games inside its own conference – including a total of 16 against their four division opponents – and 18 outside the conference.
Then the playoffs will start.
All of which sounds right.
One customary complaint about the NBA season is that it lingers too long, especially for teams that are locks to make the playoffs. The incentive to earn a higher seed just isn’t that great.
No wonder coaches don’t get, and fans don’t see, every player’s best every regular-season night. Why bother?
This season, that could be different.
Every contest might actually count.
In 1998-99, when the lockout reduced the season to 50 games apiece, just six games separated the top seed in the Eastern Conference from the eighth seed. Miami Heat fans should remember that well. Their top-seeded team won 33, and the No. 8 Knicks won 27, before New York eliminated Miami in the first round on its way to the NBA final.
Sixty-six isn’t 50. Yet you can expect more urgency than in the normal 82-game slate, since there will be less time to recover from a slow start, such as the 9-8 struggle the Heat endured last season.
You can also expect less wide-scale boredom, the sort that usually creeps in around February. Instead, players are about to be blitzed, with 3.9 games a week rather than the usual 3.5 or so. The risk isn’t ennui. Rather, it’s injury, especially to calves, groins and hamstrings, considering the compressed training camp.
Are there other drawbacks?
Sure, but they’re minor.
With just 18 games against the other conference, that means every team will not visit six cities. That might be a shame for some cities, which would like to see the Heat at least once.
For Heat fans? It’s not much of a worry, not with the New York Knicks, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls bigger draws than anyone out West except for the Lakers. And it’s likely that if either L.A. team skips the trip to Miami, it won’t be Kobe’s crew.
What about the 16 games lost? Sure, the hoop junkies would have watched them, and might still miss them. But most NBA fans don’t start paying close attention until their NFL team is eliminated. And, in most cities – other than, say, Miami – that’s usually around Christmas. With the NFL having just one game on its schedule on Christmas – at night – the NBA will have the stage mostly to itself. Like the final never ended. So why not do this every season? Why not stay rooted at 66? Years ago, Pat Riley actually suggested 60. It’s not like there is anything special about 82. The NBA’s lack of emphasis on the historical importance of single-season totals or career statistics make it much less a slave to tradition than, say, baseball.
You likely know the highest number of points scored in a game – Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 in 1962 – but did you know the most in a season? Didn’t think so. (That was Chamberlain’s 4,029 in 1961-62. ) In a career? Not a chance. (That was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387. ) So, sure, the NBA could do this again. But it won’t. There’s too much revenue at stake to kill 16 games a season, eight home dates a team.
So enjoy what’s ahead.
For this one special four-month stretch, the NBA fan might consistently get his or her money’s worth.
The New York Times News Service