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.