If lack of rest in the NBA is putting the players and the product at risk with excessive back-to-backs, then how does the league go about fixing the issue?
There's no easy answer. The NBA is a business, and fiddling with the number of games hasn't been done since the 1967-68 season, when the schedule went the other direction, expanding from 81 games to 82. An 82-game schedule has longer ties to the NBA than the logo itself. Any tweaks would be seen as a radical change for both owners and players.
But the "this is the way we've always done it" defense is a flat-out rejection of innovation and everything the NBA under commissioner Adam Silver stands for. A season of 82 games will yield 578 brutal back-to-backs in 2014-15, where teams are forced to travel overnight, severely inhibiting sleep habits. To recap, studies have shown that a sleepless night or roughly a week's worth of little sleep has the impairment effect of becoming legally drunk. Another study shows that getting four or fewer hours of sleep a night in a week's span -- something that can occur when a team is forced to play four games in five nights -- can deplete a man's testosterone levels as if he's aged 11 years. Lack of sleep can slow reaction time by as much as half a second. One NBA player I spoke to is taking sleeping pills to cope with the NBA's travel demands.
There's more evidence that the NBA's schedule is hurting its product. A recent Stanford study showed that when basketball players got extended sleep, free throw shooting and 3-point accuracy each increased by an average of 9 percent. It's no wonder that, factoring home-court advantage, teams playing four games in five nights on the road play 3.7 points per 100 possessions worse than if they played at home with a day off.
Of course, the simplest and most effective way to lower injury risk and elevate competitiveness is to substantially slice the number of games.
Many smart basketball folks have made this proposal over the years. ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz outlined a 44-game schedule in detail. Shane Battier, when he was playing for the Houston Rockets, wanted 50 games. When he was coaching the Denver Nuggets, George Karl said he liked the idea of 62. Jeff Van Gundy called for 70, and Bill Simmons suggested 75 in this New York Times rundown by Richard Sandomir. There is no shortage of NBA coaches, players or commentators who believe 82 games is far too many.
What's the best option for Silver? Let's take a look.