NBA schedule to be easier on players

AP

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The NBA schedule is a little bit easier on players.

Fans might be catching a break - and some more sleep - as well.

The league announced its 2019-20 schedule on Monday, featuring another dip in back-to-back games for teams and a major change in the number of nationally televised games starting at 10:30 p.m. on the East coast. Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers will start several games a half-hour earlier than usual, while broadcasters ESPN and Turner are going to earlier start times on many of their midweek doubleheader nights.

Such a change has been on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's mind for some time, especially since roughly half of the nation's television homes are in the East time zone - but now, a number of the league's biggest stars play on the West coast. It wasn't uncommon for nationally televised midweek games to end around 1 a.m. or even later last season, and that was not good for ratings.

"It's something that I think we have to address," Silver said in May.

And changes are definitely coming.

ESPN's Wednesday doubleheaders - mostly at 8 and 10:30 p.m. last season - will begin at either 7 or 7:30 p.m., followed by a second game at either 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. in the East. TNT had nine Tuesday doubleheaders last season with the second game starting at 10:30; this season that number is down to two, with the second game now mostly starting at 9:30 or 10 p.m.

In all, there were 57 games on national television starting at 10:30 p.m. last season. That number falls to 33 this season, a dip of 42 percent.

Meanwhile, players might be getting a touch more rest this season as well. For the fifth straight year, the NBA has found a way to lower the average number of times a team has to play on consecutive days. The league average is 12.4 back-to-backs this season, down from 13.3 last year and 36 percent down from the average of 19.3 five years ago.

Other highlights from the 2019-20 schedule:

• OPENING NIGHT: Toronto will get its rings on Oct. 22, when it plays host to New Orleans and No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson. The Lakers - now featuring Anthony Davis to play alongside LeBron James - will play at the Clippers - now featuring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George - in the second half of that doubleheader, and that will be one of the 10:30 p.m. Eastern nationally televised midweek games that will otherwise be largely avoided this season.

• CHRISTMAS: Toronto gets to host a Christmas game for the first time, playing host to Boston at noon Eastern. The other Christmas matchups (all times Eastern): Milwaukee at Philadelphia, 2:30 p.m.; Houston at Golden State, 5 p.m.; Clippers at Lakers, 8 p.m.; New Orleans at Denver, 10:30 p.m.

• MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY: There are 14 games scheduled for Jan. 20, the day honoring the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including the traditional home games for Atlanta (against Toronto) and Memphis (against New Orleans).

• EUROPE IN PRIME TIME: The schedule features 48 games - 24 on Saturdays, 24 on Sundays - that will air in prime time in Europe. That doesn't include the Jan. 24 game in Paris between Milwaukee and Charlotte.

• FOUR-IN-FIVES: The stretches of four games in five days might be gone for good. This will be the third consecutive season where no team gets tasked with handling one of those. No team will play eight games in 12 days, either - though there are 19 instances of teams having to play five times in a span of seven days.

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