4 min read

Back, back, back-to-backs

One topic of constant interest when it comes to NBA scheduling is the discussion about back-to-back games. Every team has to deal with them and some more than others. It’s not fair and it won’t ever be. People (hopefully) realize this, but still, it’s interesting to look where your team stands in terms of it.

Obviously, the back-to-back game is one of the toughest parts about your schedule. Depending on what happened just 24 hours earlier, your team could be absolutely gassed with jello for legs when they step on the hardwood again against another team. It’s just part of the deal and while NBA players are in incredible shape and condition (well, except for Eddy Curry), two games in 48 hours can be exhausting both physically and mentally.

Yesterday, Henry Abbott provided a detailed list of every team’s back-to-back situation. Oklahoma City was in the very bottom half with only 18 (only San Antonio and New Orleans have fewer). The most was the Bobcats with 23.

But there’s a little catch to the back-to-back game: They aren’t all equal. Sure, you’re going to be worn out after just playing a night before. Everybody has to go through this. But often times, the team you’re playing on the second night of a back-to-back is well rested and ready to go while you’re having to electroshock your legs into working. For instance, out of Oklahoma City’s 18 back-to-backs, only six of them have the Thunder playing a team that also played the night before. So for all you language arts kids, that’s 12 times (66 percent of the time) that OKC will be playing a rested team after playing the night before.

In three cases, OKC will be playing teams that are coming off more than one day’s rest (Feb. 23rd against San Antonio and March 31st against Boston). Both those teams will have had two days off. And April 7th, OKC will take on a Denver squad that will have had three days off. Good thing those games aren’t against awesome, title-contending teams.

It’s not like I’m complaining. Again, this is all just part of it. In fact, Zach Lowe of Celtics Hub did some great research already on this for the Celtics:

Last season, I looked at all the back-to-backs for the Eastern Conference teams and found that, on average, a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back will be facing an opponent in the same situation about half the time. In other words, if your team is tired from a game the night before, there’s a 50-50 chance their opponent is facing the same fatigue. That is not the case for Boston this season, and it’s not even close. The C’s have 18 back-to-backs, and in only three of those 18 scenarios will they face a team on the second night that will also have played the night before. That’s a five-to-one ratio, and it would have been the highest such ratio in the Eastern Conference last season; only Detroit (which faced a rested opponent in 12 of 16 back-to-backs) even came close.

And OKC is sitting at a two-to-one ratio, which I believe is better than five-to-one. So before we cry woe-is-me about any of this stuff, keep these things in mind: The Thunder’s longest road trip is just four games. The Clippers have to endure an eight-game roadie this year (as well as a six-game one). And after that, OKC had just six three-game road trips. So in fact, with a low number of back-to-backs and the skim road trips, it looks like the Thunder got a good draw. The whole schedule is relatively balanced without any crazy stretch of road games or any massive home stand.

But what about the flip side? How many times does OKC benefit from a team being on tired legs? Subtracting the six games that the teams will be on neutral ground, the number comes to eight. Oklahoma City will get eight games against a team that played the night before, while the Thunder has had at least one day off. Four of those come against the Spurs and the Trail Blazers. Of the fourteen total, nine are at home and five are on the road. So again, that’s pretty favorable.

In terms of the specifics for the back-to-backs, eight of them are road and road, six are home then road and five are road then home. A pretty even distribution there. Obviously the toughest is road-road, just because you’re gone for both games. Road then home would probably be the best because at least you’ve got an energetic home crowd to help liven your legs.

Also, just for fun, I looked up the farthest OKC would have to travel for a back-to-back. There’s a bunch of them in there that are Miami to Orlando, Dallas to OKC, Los Angeles to Sacramento type travels. But the longest are from New York to Minneapolis (1,197 miles), Memphis to Cleveland (730 miles) and OKC to New Orleans (726 miles).

Now all of this would be awesome to have in perspective for the rest of the league. We know that OKC’s number of back-to-backs is low, but I’m not so sure where the Thunder sits in terms of versus rested teams on back-to-backs. Or what the numbers is for other squads being rested playing a team that played the night before. Somebody needs to start that website. Or I need an intern.