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NBA on Sling: League Needs to Back Away From Back-to-Backs

The “resting stars in preparation for the postseason” thing is officially a problem for the NBA, and man is it a dumb one. What makes it so dumb is that it’s entirely the consequence of coaches responded logically to boneheaded scheduling.

The Cavs took a drubbing at the hands of the Clippers Saturday, falling 108-78, with Cleveland sitting LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, on a day when teammates Kyle Korver and Kevin Love were already out with injuries. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who’d rested stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan earlier in the week during a back-to-back against Denver, was sympathetic to the Cavs and to the fans who had to witness the abomination.

“I hate it for the fans. I really do. I hate it. I do it. We all do it. I mean, it’s bad,” Rivers said after defeating Cleveland.

The league was so impressed by the game that rather than posting a highlight package on their YouTube page, they offered fans a collection of the two teams’ best alley-oops of the season – against other teams.

This debacle came a week after the Spurs defeated the Warriors 107-85 in one of the season’s more joyless games, as Kevin Durant, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge were out with injuries, and the Warriors chose to sit Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Six of the top 50 players in the game just watching – Ick. Instead of spending a Saturday watching a nationally televised game between the two best teams in the NBA, fans got to bear witness to the greatest day of Ian Clark’s life. Imagine the odds you could’ve gotten out of Vegas last month if you’ve wanted to bet that Ian Clark would lead all scorers with 36 points in this game. Clark’s been in the league for four years and scored 4.5% of his career points in that one game. If you wanted an official highlight package of that game, you had to go to the D-League’s YouTube page.

This problem first began to percolate a few years ago, on the night of November 29, 2012, when Gregg Popovich decided to sit Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Danny Green in a game against the Heat, a game the Spurs would lose 105-100. Then Commissioner David Stern was so angry and embarrassed that he declared “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming,” and subsequently levied a $250,000 fine. In a fun twist, the Heat would do the same thing to the Spurs, resting LeBron and Dwyane Wade, five months later. Popp, as is his custom, handled it like a pro.

There were 8 “DNP-Rests” during the 2012-13 season, a number that has climbed precipitously to the point where the league this season is on pace for more than 300, according to ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh. And what make the DNP-Rests particularly ugly is that they often come in bunches, because a coach would rather handicap himself for one game than three or four. And making sure your guys have enough in the tank for a run deep into the playoffs is a sound strategy, because who wouldn’t rather win in June than March?

So what’s to be done, other than fining coaches into submission? Well, the league could go a long way toward minimizing the problem by doing two things that would make just about everyone happy:

1) dial back the back-to-back games – the season is 170 days long, the All Star break is five days long, so they’ve got 165 days to play 82 games – hell, you don’t even need back-to-backs. There are differing opinions on whether or not playing back-to-backs really affects performance, but a Grantland study from 2012 seemed pretty damning. And regardless of whether or not teams play worse, players hate them and coaches target them for days off.

2) For the love of god, don’t ever – EVER – schedule a nationally televised showcase game to be one half of a back-to-back. In each of the last two Saturday disasters, the team that threw in the towel was playing a back-to-back that weekend, and quite naturally figured they’d increase their chances of getting a split by going with a full roster against the lesser of the two teams they were facing.

Additionally, the NBA could even start the season a week earlier to give themselves some more breathing room. Given that they’re already kicking off in the middle of the World Series and with the NFL in full swing, what’s one more sport?

But the NBA needs to do something, cuz people are getting grumpy. Trying to explain to your significant other that you want to spend Saturday night watching LeBron is tough enough, but trying to explain that you hope to see Ian Clark go off is impossible.

Monday on TNT

Golden State Warriors (55-14) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (40-29)
8pm ET

New York Knicks (27-42) vs Los Angeles Clippers (41-29)
10:30pm

Tuesday on ESPN

Chicago Bulls (33-37) vs Toronto Raptors (40-29)
7pm ET

San Antonio Spurs (52-16) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (28-40)
9:30pm

Wednesday on ESPN

Atlanta Hawks (37-32) vs Washington Wizards (42-27)
8pm ET

New York Knicks (27-42) vs Utah Jazz (43-27)
10:30pm

Sunday on ABC

Oklahoma City Thunder (40-29) vs Houston Rockets (48-22)
3:30pm ET

Watch the NBA on TNT by subscribing to Sling, ESPN by subscribing to Sling Orange, and on ABC by subscribing to Sling Orange + Broadcast Extra All stats courtesy ESPN and Basketball Reference.