Exploring NBA Scheduling Fairness in 2009-2010

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Exploring NBA Scheduling Fairness in 2009-2010
(Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I recently wrote about the impact of NBA schedules and the likelihood of certain teams playing on certain days of the week. Another interesting scheduling byproduct  comes with teams playing back-to-back games and with teams playing four games in five days.

NBA players, coaches and fans all chime in with varying viewpoints regarding unfair scheduling challenges, but how do some teams catch a big break compared to others?

Back-to-back games are often challenging for NBA players. Complaints over fatigue caused by the schedule usually pop up around March or April when teams start to blame circumstance for struggles down the stretch.

Here is an article from USAToday (April 2009) that touches on various significant points regarding the grueling 82 game schedule. There is no question that NBA players are more fatigued for back-to-back games, and split stats show that most starting players experience below-average statistics when playing the second of their back-to-back games.

Perhaps the most challenging scheduling hurdle comes when teams play four games in five nights. While no team will ever play three games in as many  nights, most teams will play a pair of back-to-back games in five days.

Most likely, the final game of these grueling sets are the ones that bring down the productivity of the players. While NBA players are the most conditioned athletes in the world, it is unlikely that they can perform at a high level for many games in a short period of time.

Mark Cuban is probably the owner who vocalizes the need for “fairness” when it comes to scheduling back-to-back games.  Last year, Cuban’s provided readers of his blog with data showing how many times a team played in back-to-back games and how many times a team played a fourth game in five nights ("Own B2B" and "Own 4 in 5").

Cuban also included which teams caught the “benefit” where their opponents were the teams that faced the scheduling challenge ("Opp B2B" and "Opp 4 in 5"). I have mimicked Cuban's data format using data from the 2009-2010 Season:

Download NBA Schedule Quirks Image

My previous analysis showed a team bias for particular week-days that certain teams will play games; however, it seems the NBA scheduling body has done a better job in balancing the frequency of scheduling challenges that the 30 teams will face.

While Thursday night TV ratings benefit from having the Lakers playing a game, ratings do not suffer if the Lakers are playing back-to-back games. Additionally, it comes as no surprise that the Mavericks sit dead center in the scheduling impacts for all four categories.

I’m sure Commissioner Stern does everything he can to lessen the likelihood of receiving emails from Mark Cuban.

I believe fans of all 30 teams would say that the scheduling challenges are applied in a reasonable manner for the 2009 and 2010 season.  The results are not completely fair in all instances, but there is no team that suffers from a severe detriment.

The league has done a great job setting a schedule that balances all 1,232 games while maintaining profitable TV ratings.

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