August 12, 2015

The 2015-16 NBA Schedule

Las Vegas Summer League ended on July 20. Since then it's been crickets for the true NBA fan. Unless your team had a minor signing or trade going on, let's face it, there's been nothing to pay attention to for the last three weeks or so. Until today.

That's right, today at 6 p.m., the 2015-16 NBA schedule was released. And while it's not like there's a ton of surprises in there (OK so there's one) there's at least something to study, dissect and talk and write about. O the joy! This is literally the best day in August.

But beyond the immediacy of the news and the excitement of poring over 82 dates over six months or so (I know, it's irresistible), the schedule release means there's something real to finally look forward to, a date on the calendar that can be circled and anticipated for the next two and a half months or so. And because I'm really really excited about the schedule release, here again are my annual seven takeaways from today's unveiling.

1. No Early Start.
For the entire summer, the NBA has been promising the players it would revise the schedule to cut down on the number of back to back games and the number of four games in five nights occurrences. I always figured they would do this by tacking on a week to the schedule and starting the season around October 20 instead of the normal, just before Halloween, season tipoff.

I was wrong. Apparently one fly in the ointment in this situation was TNT's stranglehold on Thursday night basketball. For the last few years the league has only been able to schedule two games on Thursdays so that network could show every game. This year, they allowed more than two games on the fourth workday of the week and that allegedly solved everything. Well, almost anyway. 

The number of four in five nights situations dropped from 70 occurrences last year to just 27 this year. Of course the Wizards are not one of the three teams without one of these. And in a strange twist despite the league's best efforts, the Wizards back to back situations actually increased, from 16 in the 2014-2015 season to 19 this year. Go figure. Should have known with the Wizards only playing three Thursdays.

On the flip side and on a personal note, if the season had started a week earlier than normal, I would likely have missed the home opener watching cars turn left around a 2-2/3 mile track in Alabama, but that's a story for another time. I guess I'm happy for now that TNT relented on the whole Thursday thing to keep the overall schedule the same length, even though it seems to not have benefitted the Wizards much at all.

2. Road Opener
Yep, for the tenth time in the last dozen years, Wizards fans get to watch our favorite team on television for their season opener. Well, unless we want to travel to Orlando on October 28. I'm not sure what the league's reluctance to let the Wiz open at home is, but it sure doesn't happen too often. The Milwaukee Bucks got their first game at home this year for the first time in 31 years. Maybe all it takes to make it happen is a new stadium deal?

Despite the first two on the road, the Wizards first dozen games this year doesn't look so bad, something I always check out for an historically slow starting franchise (can't figure this one out - players change, the result doesn't). Yes, there are games against San Antonio and Oklahoma City in the first 12 but they are both at Verizon Center. Of the remaining ten, nine are against Eastern Conference teams who finished sixth or worst in the conference last year. A slow start is a wasted start this year.

3. No Respect.
During the 2013-2014 season, the Wizards made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and advanced to the second round for the first time since 2005. John Wall made the All-Star Game as a reserve. Things seemed to be headed in the right direction. And the Wizards were rewarded with ten appearances on national TV (in this case meaning TNT, ABC or ESPN; NBA TV doesn't count here). Finally we had arrived.

Last season, the Wizards again made it to the second round of the playoffs and might have advanced past the Atlanta Hawks if John Wall hadn't broken his hand (useless speculation, I know). John Wall STARTED in the All-Star Game and he made an All-NBA Defensive team. So now the popularity of the team is really picking up, right? And that has to follow with more national television exposure, right?

Umm…not so much. There are just five Wizards games on the national TV slate this year! FIVE!!!! The Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers make their national debut on October 28. I have to wait until February 3rd this season to see the Wiz on TNT, ABC or ESPN. The Timberwolves (who were the worst team in the league last year as an aside) get the same number of appearances nationally as the Wizards. How is that even possible? The Lakers make 19 appearances this season. That's two fewer victories than they had all last year. Shouldn't be possible.

I'm not surprised. The NBA always cares about the teams which are the most popular, not the ones who play the best basketball. I just thought the Wall as an All-Star starter might have changed things. Guess not. And it doesn't really matter to me anyway. No other broadcast team can top Phil and Buck anyway.

4. A Lump of Coal in our Stockings.
Before tucking into some turkey and all the trimmings for Christmas dinner last year, I got to watch the Wizards take care of the miserable New York Knicks in a laugher in New York City. What an awesome Christmas present. How about a repeat this year? Yeah, not so much. I've complained enough already in this post. I'm not going to do any more. See number 3 above. Of course the Lakers are playing on Christmas. Sorry. Couldn't help it.

5. Welcome home! Or not so much.
For as long as I've been a season ticket holder, the Wizards have never fielded the same team two years in a row. So that inevitably means that some players who suited up for our home five one year are wearing a different jersey the following year. And some of those guys are bound to take the court against the Wizards sometime during the next season. Go down the list of returning players over the last 15 years and you'll find Richard Hamilton, Larry Hughes, Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, JaVale McGee, Nick Young, Andray Blatche and Trevor Ariza. This year you can add Paul Pierce, Andre Miller and Kevin Seraphin to the list.

Now usually I have a policy that if you turned down a Wizards re-signing offer and went with another team, you are getting booed; conversely, if you got traded away, I'll consider some polite applause to a standing ovation for you upon your return. I got yelled at by some dude behind me for applauding DeShawn Stevenson when he played for the Hawks and I know my former seat neighbors Adam, Brian and Jill cursed me silently inside when I showed up in my Brendan Haywood rookie t-shirt. Yes, I gave Gilbert some hearty clapping when he returned to VC with the Magic. And yes, I broke my trade and praise rule for Nick Young and JaVale McGee. I'm booing those guys every chance I get.

I'm not sure how I'm going to react to this year's crop of returnees. No doubt I'm not dissing Miller and Seraphin. I'll always be grateful for Andre's last second pass to Bradley Beal last year in Orlando and Kevin was for a while my favorite Wizard based on personality alone. But Paul Pierce? I'm torn. He did so much for the team's confidence in the playoffs last year, said he wanted to stay and then bailed. This is going to be a game time decision. First trip back to VC for Andre is March 25 with the Minnesota Timberwolves; I expect the New York Knicks will have #KSLife playing a prominent role when they hit town for the home opener on October 31; and the Clippers game is December 28. I'll decide by that point if I boo or politely clap for The Truth. He won't get more from me I know that.

6. The Only REAL Surprise…
Every year the Wizards play each team from the Western Conference twice. That's 30 games. We also play each of the four teams in our division four times. That's another 16 games. The remaining 36 games are split between the other ten teams in the Eastern Conference who are not in the Southeast Division, meaning every year there are four teams in the Eastern Conference we play only three times. 

While there's real fun to be had today in examining when we play other teams, when we have long home stands and road trips and when we battle teams in our own division (three Atlanta games in the last month might be huge for a potential Wizards' Division title - I'm still hoping), the most basic thing we didn't know before 6 p.m. today was who the Wizards are playing just three times.

This year, the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets will visit Verizon Center just once and the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks will be visited by the Wizards just once each. I'm not upset about the lack of a fourth Bulls game, although I'd rather have two at home, but I'd feel pretty good about getting all four games against those other three teams. Indiana, Brooklyn and New York all finished in the bottom five in the Conference outside the Southeast Division. We are being robbed of a potential easy victory or two here.

If you ever travel to Toronto to watch the Wiz or for any other reason, go here for some food. And beer.
7. Traveling Time.
So here's the best thing about today's schedule release. Today's news is going to structure my life schedule (and therefore my travel schedule) for the six months from late October to mid-April. In those months, I'm going to need to get away for at least one pretty good length trip in addition to renewing my quest to see the Wizards play in all the NBA arenas in the league. That means I'm looking for long gaps in the home schedule and Friday or Saturday night road games where I can spend a couple of days out of town.

For long vacations, the time around the All-Star break looks wonderful. The Wizards are out of town or  just not playing at all from Saturday, February 6th all the way to Thursday, February 18th. Good road trip candidates to me this year look like Friday, December 11 at New Orleans; Saturday, January 30 at Houston; Saturday, March 12 at Denver; and/or Sunday, April 3 at the Los Angeles Clippers. Who's coming with?

So that's what I got this year. I'm refraining from an in depth analysis of the Wizards' chances to take the Southeast Division this year because, well, you know… October 28 is just 77 days away.

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