During a full slate of NBA games Wednesday night, only one game had the potential to feature two players who have both won back-to-back MVPs. Neither were nationally televised games, although both of those games had their own built-in storylines as part of the league’s “Rivals Week”. It was the Denver Nuggets against the Milwaukee Bucks, where the two players who have combined to win the last four MVP awards were to meet. But with the Nuggets on the second night of a back-to-back, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic didn’t play, nor did Jamal Murray or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in a 107-99 loss to Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee.
It took all the excitement out of what could have been one of the most exciting games this season, especially considering both teams are ranked at or near the top of each conference. With a game like that, as rare as it happens every year, you’d think the league would promote it and make sure both teams were well rested before they met. At least that’s what Nuggets coach Mike Malone thought on Wednesday night.
“The league has an impossible job [in schedule making]you’re not going to keep 30 teams happy with the schedule,” Malone said after the match. “But that being said, I think Philadelphia played tonight, they don’t play again until Saturday I think. We played tonight, we don’t play again until Saturday. They’re setting up the Nikola Jokic vs. Joel Embiid game, so these the players will likely be available.
“For your point, this is a team, over the last five years, Milwaukee has won more games than anybody. We’ve won more games than anybody in the Western Conference. Giannis is a two-time MVP. Nikola is a two-time MVP To have this game on the second night of a back-to-back, not a nationally televised game, and a lot of our guys not able to play tonight, you would hope that they would set this game up to be A little more of a marquee matchup. But again, that’s easy for us to say. Whoever does that in the league office, it’s an unenviable task because nobody’s ever happy with it.”
The solution to all this is to shorten the timetable. If the NBA shortened the schedule in a way that would eliminate most back-to-backs, there probably wouldn’t be such instances of star players sitting out high-profile games. They could also afford to spread out some of those marquee meetings on different days, so that a Giannis vs. Jokic competition gets its due shine while still airing a Warriors vs. Grizzlies or Sixers vs. Nets games.
It’s true, there are tons of logistics to figure out to make it work, the main point being that owners and players can lose money if there are fewer games.
None of this is new or deep information, as a potentially shortened season has been a major talking point around the league for years now. Just last week, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said he will “keep pushing for 72-game seasons” right after announcing the team was resting four of its starters on the second night of a back-to-back.
“It’s been proven that if guys get beat up, back-to-back, players are much more likely to get hurt and miss more games, and that’s why you see it all over the league,” Kerr said. “Everybody’s cautious when a guy gets beat up. You’re just playing the long game. … We’re going to play it safe all year as long as guys are beat up and vulnerable to injury.”
A 72-game schedule is a starting point, but likely won’t eliminate all back-to-backs. I propose a schedule of 58 games where each team plays each other twice. It will probably never happen just because of the amount of money at stake, but it’s something the NBA should consider if they want to cut back on players taking nights off just to rest.
This isn’t something that will be figured out overnight, and right now the league is more focused on adding games to the calendar by creating a mid-season tournament. This is in addition to the play-in round, which plays at least one extra game for eight teams. Perhaps it will be a topic of discussion for the new collective agreement, which will expire after the 2023-24 season. Until then, we’ll just have to keep looking at some of these one-sided games where the star players are resting after playing the night before.