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We’re well into the NFL’s season of hope, otherwise known as the preseason, when every team is relatively healthy and every fan harbors thoughts of a deep playoff run.
But this time of year is different in the NBA. Basketball’s preseason is better known as its petty period, when players and fan bases eagerly pick up on any perceived insults, mentally storing them for future motivation or in case occasions for payback arise.
NBA teams’ schedule release videos provided plenty of digs, as did others’ rankings of them. While some may look at the NBA’s newly dropped slate as an opportunity to look ahead at marquee matchups or begin planning travel, others seize the chance to get irrationally upset. And isn’t that more fun?
Clippers fans might have gotten the most grousing ammunition. Los Angeles will appear on ABC/ESPN/TNT just 12 times this season, which is eight fewer appearances than it got last year. Meanwhile, the team will be forced to log the most road miles this year, and it faces the most three-games-in-four-day stretches (25).
Collectively, NBA organizations can gripe about the fact that the average number of back-to-backs per team has increased slightly to 14.0, up from 13.3 last season. The league reduced the number of games on consecutive days by more than a third from 2014-15 to 2019-20, but are now pushing up against the limits of what is feasible given the length of the season.
The Play-In Tournament and the In-Season Tournament have only added to the constraints. Still, instances of rest disadvantage (i.e. games in which one team played the previous day but the other didn’t) are approximately equal to last season’s record low.
Cavs fans have a right to feel uniquely slighted by the broadcasting schedule. While Las Vegas gives them a good chance of finishing with one of the best five records in the league, they’re squarely middle-of-the-pack in terms of games on premiere national networks.
On the other hand, who is getting the extra shine? Well, if you want your NBA team to get more national TV exposure than their over/under win total would predict, there are a few easy solutions. One: Be a historic franchise with a massive fanbase. The Los Angeles Lakers have 28 premier national TV appearances, while the New York Knicks have 20. Or two: draft a generational talent like Victor Wembanyama. The bounce of a ping-pong ball gave San Antonio that option this summer, and the result is a leap from one game on ESPN last year to 11 this time around across ABC, ESPN and TNT.
Then there’s the Golden State Warriors’ route: winning four titles in eight seasons and becoming the league’s most valuable franchise. This year, Steph Curry and crew once again lead the way with 29 games scheduled for those channels. The rich get richer, no surprise there.
TV schedulers are buying into a couple smaller market teams though. The Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder have a combined 19 games in the league’s top slots this time around, after each team only had one such game last season.
As for the defending champion Denver Nuggets, they moved from 16 to 22 marquee contents this year, including the season opener against the Lakers and a Christmas battle with Golden State.
The Heat will also play on Christmas (against Philadelphia), one of 16 ABC/ESPN/TNT games for the Eastern Conference champs. That’s up from 11 a season ago.
But even with the increased national exposure, those teams will surely find something to feel disparaged over all the same.