How to Keep the NBA on Schedule
The argument for a shorter NBA season, as proposed by LeBron James, didn't come out of thin air -- it came in response to an experimental 44-minute preseason game between Brooklyn and Boston.
For the record, James and many other players argued against taking a whack at the 48-minute game. To some, that may seem inconsistent: If we're striving for reducing player injuries and increasing fan enjoyment, isn't a skinnier game as important as a shorter season?
Not necessarily. The case for reducing a 48-minute game to 44 minutes, or even 40, is almost entirely about television. When TNT carries a doubleheader with broadcast starts at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. (as it will tonight, the opening night of the season), and the first game runs long, it results in all kinds of chaos -- a delayed tipoff for the second game, 1:15 a.m. finishes for East Coast viewers and, more important, lost advertising revenue. Brooklyn Nets coach Lionel Hollins acknowledged this is a television issue, not a quality-of-play issue.
That doesn't mean the NBA doesn't have a ballooning problem on its hands. The increased use of instant replay -- a noble cause -- and longer timeouts have added more time to what once was a roughly two-hour, 10-minute excursion.
Worth exploring are several game-shortening initiatives that could be immediately tested in the NBA's Development League -- moves that could fit a 48-minute contest more neatly into a 120- to 130-minute window.
Among those initiatives:
- Using running time in the first 10 minutes of each quarter, except for free throws and timeouts, putting more emphasis on inbounds plays that are soccerlike in their brevity and style;
- Changing the over-the-limit team-foul rules to 10 per half instead of five per quarter. This would have two desirable outcomes: First, and invariably, there would be fewer free-throw attempts, and second, teams would be much more prone to modifying their play if they commit several fouls early in a half, thus producing a cleaner game;
- Demanding that teams line up for free throws in 10 seconds when there is no change of ends for free throws. Failing to do so would result in a delay-of-game violation;
- Restricting teams losing by seven or more points (a three-possession game) from calling a timeout in the final minute; and
- Changing the five-minute overtime period to three minutes. This was discussed at several Competition Committee meetings I attended, but no action has been taken.
All these initiatives could improve the flow of the game and speed it up without taking the drastic step of reducing the 48-minute game clock.
There is one other change that should be initiated: eliminating multiple trips into other markets. It's an anachronism that no longer makes sense in today's League Pass world. As in baseball, there's no harm in having a conference opponent stay in town for a two-game series over three days instead of making two separate trips into the opposing city. Season-ticket holders are already dividing up their tickets; this simply makes it more efficient for them. Plus, it adds to the excitement (this is the Lakers' only trip to Denver this year!).
One possible drawback is the effect on competitive advantage: For example, with the Thunder's Kevin Durant sidelined for the early part of this season, teams playing a two-game series against Oklahoma City before his return would be doubly blessed. But such vagaries already exist in the long 82-game season. The Lakers' second trip into an opposing city might be the final game of a four-games-in-five-nights trip -- hardly a model of competitive fairness.
In the end, the NBA's compass in these matters should be set to one direction: presenting players in the best possible light. That means rested and well. As James noted, there are too many injuries in the NBA, especially to big men. That's a topic for another day.
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