The lockout is not officially over yet. But with a tentative agreement in place and the season scheduled to begin December 25, the league has to move pretty quickly to get a schedule set in stone.
Each team will still play four games against other teams within its division — a total of 16 games. The difference comes in the other in-conference games and the non-conference games. Each team will play two non-division opponents within its conference four times and the others it will play just three times. Four of those eight remaining in-conference matchups will be 2-home, 1-away while the other four will be 1-home, 2-away.
For inter-conference games, each team will play three teams twice (once home, once away), and the other 12 once (six at home, six away only).
There will be, for the first time since the 1999 lockout-shortened season, back-to-back-to-backs. Each team will have at least one and no more than three. The season will run until April 26 with the Playoffs starting April 28. There is the potential for back to backs to take place during the Playoffs as well.
Obviously there is a very short time to squeeze in a lot of games. The league average will be 3.9 games per week, up from the usual 3.5 games per week.
The thing to keep an eye on once the schedule is released is who gets the favorable schedule. The advantage of the 82-game schedule is its balance. Each team plays out-of-conference opponents twice (once home, once away) and each team within its conference three or four times. The majority of teams in the conference, each team plays four times. There is very little room for true imbalance in the schedule. Aside from traveling and circumstances during the season, there is nothing inherently unfair in the schedule.
How this year’s schedule is constructed could be very intriguing. Does the NBA try to force the Lakers and Heat to play each other twice instead of say the Kings and Heat? That is obviously an advantage for everyone else as the Lakers and Heat are two of the top teams in the league. The team that has to play Minnesota only once (and on the road) likely is going to be at a disadvantage compared to the team that has to play the Spurs twice.
When the schedule comes out, seeing who has these imbalances could very well affect the playoff picture in slight ways. But if you are a team fighting for a bottom playoff seed, that could matter.
And that does not even get into the conference matchups. Teams would much rather take on the Bobcats or the Kings four times rather than the Mavericks or Celtics. These splits could prove important in late April when the playoffs begin.