Schedule has given NBA more headaches than missing stars for Warriors-Spurs

Between Feb. 25 and March 11 (14 days), the Golden State Warriors traveled 9,446 miles -- roughly 17 percent of their total travel his season.

Between Jan. 6 and Feb. 2 (27 days), the Rockets traveled 12,415 miles -- just over 24 percent of their total travel this season.

The Nuggets had traveled 33 percent of their total travel this year by Dec. 15.

Other teams have endured hellish stretches as well, like the Hornets’ December, the Thunder’s January and the Wizards’ March. (Schedule data via Nylon Calculus)

Every NBA season is going to have rough patches, brutal stretches. But this season, they’ve been extreme. The boiling point came Friday night, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr, after his team had played eight games in 13 days and traveled almost 10,000 miles, announced after a loss to the Timberwolves that he would rest Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on Saturday . That night, the Warriors were scheduled for their third back-to-back of this stretch, and it just happened to come against the San Antonio Spurs on national television. The league’s two best teams would already be without Kawhi Leonard ( concussion ), LaMarcus Aldridge ( heart arrhythmia ), Kevin Durant (knee) and Tony Parker (back) in their first matchup since opening night.

But this wasn’t injury, it was rest, and when you look at the schedule, it’s hard to blame Kerr for making that call. And the Warriors coach was understandably annoyed to make it. From ESPN:
“It’s truly insane,” Kerr said on Thursday on 95.7 The Game. “This is the worst stretch of schedule that I’ve ever been a part of and I’ve been in the league since 1988. I’ve never seen anything like this, eight games in eight cities with 11,000 miles.”

But Adam Silver has resisted fining teams for similar decisions. Kerr applauds Silver for his openness to this difficult topic. The league has agreed to stretch the season seven to ten days in 2017-18 and cut down on preseason games in addition to cutting down back-to-backs.

“What I really respect about Adam Silver is he’s been really proactive about trying to deal with this issue. He’s all ears when we talk to him.”

Kerr personally brought up this March stretch in a conversation with Silver this summer. What was Silver’s response? Kerr said Silver promised he’s working on it and the league was “going to do everything we can to lighten the load.”

“And I believe him.”

via Science and brutal travel led Kerr to rest stars.

What’s interesting, of course, is that these road trips come after the league has already made efforts to shift the schedule. This season, back-to-backs are down. The NBA reduced the number of four-games-in-five-nights instances from 70 last season to just 27.

We’ve seen the fruits of those efforts. Scoring is up, and the night-by-night performances statistically are ridiculous. Offensive efficiency is up 2.2 points per 100 possessions to 106.1. Four teams have an offensive efficiency above 110 (last season only Golden State hit above that mark). It stands to reason that players having more rest leads to better energy and better efficiency.

But there’s a cost to those changes. And one thing we’ve seen is the uptick in these crazy, drawn-out road trips. It’s not just the miles, it’s the frequency of games.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford notes one of the challenges, especially for a team that’s struggling, is the inability to find practice time to rectify issues.

“You get less practice days,” Clifford said last week in Denver. “Before, I didn’t like all the back-to-backs, either. The thing I’d say about the back-to-backs is -- and I don’t think they’ll ever go back to it -- but I think it’d be better if everyone played relatively the same number, which has never been the case. But even with reducing them, on these road trips, you don’t get the practice days, you don’t get two days between games.
“Now what we do in practice is less contact, more rest, and there are drawbacks to that, obviously.”

Saturday’s game between the Warriors and Spurs was never going to be as good as it should be, due to injuries to Leonard and Durant that couldn’t have been avoided. But it became an absolute joke when the Warriors made the wise decision to punt on playing their other three stars. This game has huge implications for the No. 1 seed and home court in the playoffs, but the schedule has created a situation where Golden State had no choice but to essentially punt the game, even if its chances remain good due to the Spurs’ injury situation. And yet it’s basically a preseason game, talent wise.

It’s not just this game that’s suffering, either. The Warriors have lost four of six. The Cavaliers have lost four of five. The Celtics have lost three of four. Getting down to it, the elephant in the room is 82 games. It’s too long, and everyone knows it. The season would be better at between 58 and 70 games. Everyone knows that, it’s no secret. But that would mean the owners, players and coaches would have to give up money ... and that’s not happening, ever. It’s a non-starter. The minute the league adopted 82 games, decades ago, it ensured we were going to have this problem. The only real solution is to expand the league to going from September through all of July, erasing all but a month of the offseason, which isn’t a really viable situation, either.

Next season, the NBA is set to draw the schedule back to mid-October, shortening the preseason and giving more room to spread games out. Long road trips will likely still be a regular part of NBA life, and the schedule will always be harder on some teams than others. But much of this reveals the complicated nature that is inherent to the schedule, between not only the league’s 82-game format and typical time span, but also arena issues like concerts and other events.

One last thing the NBA should probably be aware of is how often these late-season marquee matchups get spoiled. The NBA saves most of its key games for March and April. Golden State and San Antonio play twice in 18 days, after not playing once since the opening night of the season. The league does this because between September and February, the sports world belongs to football, and the NFL in particular. They want playoff-relevant matchups late in the season, building momentum of interest for the playoffs. Spring, after all, is the NBA’s golden time.

But late season is also when teams rest more commonly. You saw an uptick of injuries in February after the league was relatively free of them up until then. Teams are resting more and more, and many of these matchups will be without key players. It’s only sensible if you’re a playoff team firmly in command of your seeding, or between a few spots you’re comfortable with. If the NBA wants its best teams facing one another at full strength, repositioning some of these matchups to the winter would make sense. You still can’t control for injuries, though, and if two juggernauts play and everyone’s watching the Cowboys play the Jaguars anyway, did it happen?
There are no good answers to these issues, and the league doesn’t want to put its teams in this position. Some things can’t be avoided, and in fairness, no one’s complaining about the billions of dollars in revenue the TV networks have provided the league, which has gone to teams and players. But if we’re going to value championships first, and everything else second, teams are going to have to make these kinds of choices, even if the results mean that Saturday’s marquee matchup is between Pau Gasol and Patrick McCaw.

Warriors star Stephen Curry was given the night off and watched as Golden State suffered a 107-85 loss -- the team's third straight. Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports

Steve Kerr not offended by Andre Iguodala's racially charged remarks

SAN ANTONIO -- Golden State Warriors sixth-man Andre Iguodala used some racially insensitive remarks after Friday night's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and many took it as directed toward his head coach, Steve Kerr.

"You guys just got Andre'd," Kerr said to a group of reporters prior to Saturday's matchup against the Spurs. "You got Andre'd."

Kerr spoke to Iguodala's comments the day after the forward was asked if he knew that he, along with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, would be sitting out Saturday night's game, the second of a back-to-back.

"Nope, no clue," Iguodala replied. "I do what master say."

He later clarified his remark to ESPN, saying it was in no way a shot directed at Kerr and that it was only an inside locker room joke.

"Andre is one of those guys who likes to stir the pot and has a lot of cryptic messaging at times," Kerr said. "[He] jokes around. I didn't take anything from it. It's just Andre being Andre."

Iguodala is known for making reporters feel uneasy with his racially insensitive candor. This just happened to be one of the first times he allowed a camera to film his act.

"Sure," Kerr said, when asked if he has heard Iguodala talk like that before. "Like I said, Andre is extremely intelligent. He sees a lot of the hypocrisy in the world. He expresses his displeasure in strange ways at times. So he said what he said. I don't think it meant a whole lot. I guess he has to answer that question, what he meant by that. I wasn't offended by anything he said personally, but he chose some words that were questionable, and he's got to respond to that."

Also during Iguodala's media address on Friday, he used the N-word repeatedly. Fatigued by the condensed road schedule of the past two weeks, irked by the four losses in past six games, dealing with Kevin Durant's injury and the team's beef with the officiating on Friday spilled over into postgame frustration.

"We gotta score more than the other team," Iguodala told reporters, after being asked what led to their second consecutive loss. "Yep, they want dumb n---as, so I'm going to give y'all a dumb n---a."

ESPN spoke to Iguodala briefly on Saturday, and he said he has no plans of addressing the media and doesn't feel clarity on his comments is necessary.

Warriors-Spurs matchup turns into battle of backups; fans not pleased

SAN ANTONIO -- A combination of San Antonio Spurs injuries and the Golden State Warriors' desire for rest transformed a highly anticipated marquee matchup on Saturday into a battle of backups, resulting in disappointed fans.

"I just think it takes away from it because we are here to see all the players," said Mary Lou Mahone, a Spurs fan, who flew to Corpus Christi, Texas, from Sacramento, California, on Friday, before making the drive to San Antonio with her husband, Louis, a Warriors fan. "It's kind of disappointing when you don't get to see everybody. Is LaMarcus [Aldridge] even gonna be here?"

Louis Mahone added with a laugh that the situation between the teams "takes away from the game ... but we're here."

Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced after his team's loss Friday to the Minnesota Timberwolves that he would rest Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson on Saturday. Golden State was prepping to play its seventh game on the road in its last eight contests.

San Antonio, meanwhile, had already planned to hold out star forward Kawhi Leonard, who is in the concussion protocol after taking a blow to the head Thursday in a loss at Oklahoma City. Then, the club announced hours before Saturday's game that Aldridge would miss an indefinite period due to a minor heart arrhythmia. The Spurs also ruled out Tony Parker (back tightness) and backup point guard Dejounte Murray (groin).

"For tonight, whoever's left is gonna go play," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game. "We'll see how they do. I'm gonna show up and watch the whole thing. It ain't gonna be pretty, but the guys that are out there are gonna compete their butts off, and they're gonna all try to win. Some guys will play well, and some guys will play poorly. We'll see what happens.

"We didn't have to rest anybody tonight because they all got hurt. It could've been we're resting our guys and he's resting his guys. It just didn't work out that way."

Nonetheless, Binkan Cinaroglu, an executive vice president of a real estate company, wasn't happy. Cinaroglu wanted his sister's boyfriend, Rodrigo Parra, 21, to experience a Warriors-Spurs matchup in San Antonio.

So he purchased a plane ticket for Parra to visit San Antonio from Tijuana, so that Parra could see his beloved Curry play. Cinaroglu also bought four tickets for $1,500 apiece to sit near the Golden State bench.

"When [Kevin] Durant got hurt, I said, 'That's fine, it'll still be a good game,'" Cinaroglu said. "Then Kawhi got hit in the head, and I say, 'There's no way Pop is going to play him (Saturday).' Then I'm at dinner yesterday and see a video of Steve Kerr saying he wasn't going to play any of his starters. We're heartbroken that we can't see Curry play."

"I genuinely feel bad for the fans who bought tickets," Kerr said after the game, a 107-85 loss to the Spurs.

Emily Reeves, 11, another die-hard Curry fan, echoed Cinaroglu's sentiment. Reeves made the trip to San Antonio from Taylor, Texas, as her father, Matthew, acquired tickets for Emily, brother Fender, 8, and grandfather, Doug Reeves. Emily Reeves is the family's only Warriors fan; the rest of the Reeves root for the Spurs.

"I'm very sad because I was looking forward to just being in the same room with Stephen Curry. But I'm not, and so it's very disappointing because I had really been looking forward to this," Emily Reeves said.

An avid collector of Fender guitars -- he named his son after the instrument -- Matthew Reeves said, "It's not disappointing for me," before pointing toward Emily and Fender and adding, "This is for these guys. It's their first NBA game, so they're enjoying it."

Doug Reeves, a postal carrier, said Saturday's matchup would be just his second Spurs contest. The last time he attended a game, the Spurs faced the Utah Jazz at the Alamodome.

"I can't really figure it out because the Spurs are 1.5 games back now," Reeves said prior to the game. "So I guess ... the Warriors figure they're making the playoffs anyway. So give everybody a rest. And our guys, they're hurt. My buddy, he's a mailman like me, and I saw him today on the route. So he goes, 'Doug, did you hear that Curry's not playing?' I said, 'No.' He's always jacking with me. So I figured he was pulling my leg. Then come to find out he wasn't. It would have been interesting to see all the starters play each other, but I guess we'll have to wait for the playoffs for that."

Spurs fan David Sanchez didn't mind. Sanchez brought his teenage son, David Sanchez III, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, for their first San Antonio game in seven years, but he wasn't irritated by the lack of star power on the floor at the AT&T Center.

"I don't believe guys being out takes away from the experience because there's more to it than just one player, three players, four players," Sanchez said. "Granted, they're superstars, and they earned all the respect that they have; they deserve the rest when they need it. Only themselves, their coaches and their families know when they need the rest, and when they don't need the rest.

"For myself, it's more than just a few players. It's about the atmosphere and the arena, all the other players, the bench, the other players that step in for them. Thank God it's a blessing that we've both had experiences at other games. I know it's probably different for some fans that come out that maybe it's their first game, and they were looking forward to meeting or seeing Curry play, or Leonard or Parker or something like that. It probably would be hard if I were in that situation, too.

"But like I said, it's the whole atmosphere. It's the whole experience. I know that's what most professional games are about these days -- coming to see that one player that you're really excited to see. But for me, it's all about the game, especially from a Spurs fan's perspective, where it's always the team that wins the game. It's not just always one person."

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