I'm late. The NBA schedule for all 30 teams was released almost two weeks ago. Typically I write this post the day the slate of games for the Wizards is released. This year, a vacation and some vacation recovery messed me up. But enough excuses...the schedule is out! Winter is coming! NBA season is almost here. Below are my (for some reason) traditional seven points about the schedule. Let's get to it.
1. Early Start
The NBA season this year starts October 17. Yep, that's about a week to a week and a half earlier than the season has been starting for the last 37 years. Before that, the season routinely used to start in early to mid-October (believe it or not the Washington Bullets opened their 1980-1981 season on October 10). Of course, the regular season also ended in March back then.
So why the change? Well depending on your level of cynicism, it's either so the NBA doesn't have prime time television games with stars sitting out or to improve player safety by allowing more time between games and eliminating four game in five night scenarios. If you are a realist, it's probably both. What does this mean for the Wizards? How about a reduction in back-to-backs from 16 last year to 14 this year and a complete lack of four games in five nights (last season they had one). So in other words, not much. Still, the regular season is less than eight weeks away. Pretty excited!
2. Banner Night?
It's been 38 years since the Bullets or Wizards have raised any sort of banner and they've never done it in the Veri...er I mean Capital One Arena. You got it right, it's been a long long long time since this franchise has won anything. Finally last season they won the Southeast Division.
Now, I can't imagine all teams celebrate a division title with much of anything special but the home opener has to feature a banner raising doesn't it? I mean it has to, right? Right? RIGHT? I've suffered through 17 years as a Wizards season ticket holder with no banner ceremonies. There has to be one on opening night. They should also make this game mini-banner giveaway night by the way.
On a side note, I'd love to see the team raise the missing Capital Bullets division champions banner from 1975. No matter how many times I reference my blog post of a couple of years on this subject, nobody seems to take this seriously. But just don't raise that one on opening night this year.
3. Early West Coast Swings
Each NBA season, the Wizards head to the west coast twice, typically road trips that find the Wiz taking on Phoenix, Portland, Golden State, Utah, Denver, Sacramento and the two Los Angeles teams. When I first bought season tickets, the pattern of these trips was generally one in December (although in 2003-2004 it was November) and one in the late winter or spring (March). Lately, they have been trending so that both trips occur after the new year. This past season, both occurred in March!!
So what, you say? Well my idea here is that it's a lot easier to recover from a west coast trip or two earlier in the season when you are fresher than late in the season when you are tired from the grind. This year the Wizards got lucky (at least that's how I see it) and have both trips out west prior to 2018. Hopefully that means improved performance out west and fresher legs at the end of the season. Remember if they had just won a few more games last year, they would have been hosting game one in round two (and maybe round three) of the playoffs at home.
4. Third Time's A Charm (Or Not)
Each season the Wizards play each of the four other teams in their division four times. They also play every team in the opposite conference twice. The remaining 36 games in the schedule are split between the other ten teams in our own conference. This is nothing new; all teams have this same pattern.
Do the math and you'll note that the Wizards are going to have to play some teams in their own conference three times, not four. Depending on who those four teams are, you could gain a slight advantage over your competition. Skip a fourth game against Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee and I'd say the Wizards made out pretty well.
Unfortunately, this year the Wizards three times opponents are the Chicago Bulls, the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets and the Indiana Pacers. There's no break here for the Wizards. ESPN actually picked those four teams to finish in the bottom five of the conference (Atlanta was picked below those four but we have to play the Hawks four times by rule). In other words, we get to play the good teams four times and get to play the worst only three times. Bummer here, by the way.
5. Balanced Schedule
Last year, whether you knew it or not, the Wizards schedule was incredibly unbalanced. At one point during the 2016-2017 season, the Wizards had played 10 more games at home than they had on the road, a home/away imbalance not felt by any other team last year. What did that mean? Well, it's difficult to say but I'm guessing there aren't many teams out there that want to play 15 of their last 21 or 8 of their last 10 games in the season away from home. Last year, the Wizards did both, winning just 12 of their last 21 and five of their last 10. No guarantees that their overall record would have been better, but home cooking has to be good 60 or so games into the season. Last year, the Wiz were mostly on the road after that point in the season.
This season looks much better. The maximum imbalance the Wizards will feel between home and away games at the end of any month during the season is two. Their last 30 games are split evenly between 15 home and 15 away. And their March/April schedule features 11 home games with just 9 roadies. That situation looks way better to me this year than last year's slate did. We'll see if it affects the Wizards' end of season push.
6. Merry Christmas
In my first 17 (not counting this one) years as a season ticket holder, the Wizards have played on Christmas Day just twice: in 2008 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and in 2014 against the New York Knicks. This year, they get their third in my season ticket tenure against the rival Boston Celtics. Well, except there's no Isaiah Thomas (well, maybe as of this writing), Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder (also a maybe), Amir Johnson or Avery Bradley on that team any more. So in other words, a completely new starting five for the Cs except for Al Horford. Who's been there all of a year.
Oh well, it's Christmas and it's Wizards time. And it's not a home game so I'm not going to be longing to be at Veri...did it again...Capital One Arena on December 25. Can't think of anything more satisfying after stuffing my face with delicious Xmas grub than to watch John Wall and co. take down the hated Celtics. Yes, I still hate them even though the team is turned over. Go Wizards!!!
7. Road Trips
This is the best part of the schedule release for me. Finally I get to see if I can advance my quest to see a Wizards game in all 29 arenas against all 30 teams around the continent. I previewed my desired destinations last month in a post on this blog.
Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good because the schedule looks like it's aligned pretty well around some of the places I wanted to head this year. There's a game on a Friday night in the brand new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on a Friday night in mid-January (Detroit was my number one ranked destination this year). There's also a game two weeks prior to that in Memphis (my number two choice). If I can make the economics work, looks like I'm taking a couple of road trips in January. Who's coming with?
It's now August 27. The first preseason home game is October 2. That's just five weeks and a day from now. The home opener is just 16 days after that. The good time of the year is coming. Can't wait for it. Bring it on!