Going to the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League gives everyone a chance to see the game in a different way. Fans can run the halls with Hall of Famers. Music Movies & Hoops can shake hands with Shams. Coaches introduce themselves and their systems to the team. The players get their first—and for many only—taste of the individual pinnacle of the hoops profession: the sweat from an NBA jersey.
The NBA’s Summer League circuit is the first step to the league’s last step and every player’s desire: The NBA Finals. The pinnacle of hoops, the epitome of team accomplishment. Winning a ring seals the legacy for any player in any sport but what is in the middle determines the narrative.
Now that the NBA 2021-22 season schedule has been released, it is time to tackle a question I’ve asked most players, agents, and coaches in my two years of working NBA beats:
What is the toughest part of the schedule? Getting through those moments divides the pretenders from the contenders.
The answer from an overwhelming majority: Back-to-back sets or three games in four. Any of those X games in X many days sets that cause problems usually include at least one back-to-back set on the calendar. Going deep though, asking which type of back-to-back games are toughest, gives a wider variety of answers than I’d thought.
I’d thought Home/Home was best. It’s your own gym and bed. Family and friends can be at both games and keep the atmosphere in the arena electric. But more than one person said it was tough getting used to being home. You get settled a bit in the middle of the regular season grind. The significant others (and kids) get comfortable having you around.
After 3-4 days at home, they don’t want you to go when the time comes. Still, it is the most preferred. Most Home/Home games come days after a road game. It’s a chance to regroup. Repack the suitcases and stretch out with family.
Two road games apparently is not that bad. Players pack their stuff, hop on the bus knowing it’s a luxurious business trip of ball. A lot of the worries go away even if the wins don’t pop up in standings as often as the IG thots in the DMs.
Some players even look forward to the West Coast and East Coast jaunts. New York and Los Angeles don’t even require a change of hotels and give players a day on both ends of the trip to get out in the glamour cities. Most have homes there for offseason living as it is.
It’s those Middle America trips and rides to altitude in Denver and Utah that really take a toll. I even heard of the Coors Field but for rest management theory, which I’ll be watching for this year. How many players took the load management day in the mountains? How many extra wins did that give the Nuggets and Jazz?
Road/Home sets have all the excitement of coming home with none of the rest. All the road gameday drama includes the flying to that city. After the game it is straight to the airport. Crash out, wake up, ball. Then see where you need to be after a day off.
Home/Away has some interesting takes. You wake up at home, play a home game, and might be back in your own bed 36 hours with a road game squeezed in. It’s not a full trip but a really, really long day. The mindset is a bit different but it varies from each city. The teams clustered together will have less of a travel toll.
The golden rule of real estate (Location! Location! Location!) applies in several ways to the NBA schedule. Where are the back-to-back on the schedule? Are they grouped together or spread out? Where do those games take you and when do they bring you back home? Those small factors can play a big part in who is playing for that championship legacy at the end of the year.
Maybe that’s why Lebron’s Lakers have the easiest schedule in the NBA!