It’s not an illusion. The NBA season is creeping up faster than usual.
On Monday, the league released its regular-season schedule, revealing that the New Orleans Pelicans will tip off in just two months. The Oct. 18 season opener at Memphis is nearly 10 days earlier than the typical starting date, part of a move by the NBA to increase the amount of rest for its players.
The elongated season cuts into the laborious preseason schedule, shortening the Pelicans’ exhibition menu to just four games this year, and allows the league to cut down on clusters of games in short time frames. It’s an attempt to prevent starters from missing games for purely rest purposes and to raise the level of play in the long slog of an 82-game schedule.
It has also established a fundamental understanding from the top of the league that rest matters, and that tired legs affect results on the scoreboard.
But even with the league’s added accommodations, there will still be disparity among teams fighting fatigue when they take the floor.
It’s something the Pelicans, and all other franchises, are now keenly aware of when the schedule drops. What are minutiae to casual fans is studied in depth by NBA executives.
The primary concern is the number of “back-to-backs,” the term reserved for games played on consecutive nights.
The Pelicans are on the low end of the league’s spectrum, playing an NBA-low 13 back-to-backs this season. But nine of those are back-to-backs in which both games are on the road, which are routinely difficult, even though they’ll change time zones just twice between tipoffs.
Maybe more important is "rest advantage," which refers to which team has played most recently before tip.
The Pelicans were rewarded with 18 "rest advantage" games this season, tied for the sixth-least in the league. However, they’ll play at a rest disadvantage 26 times, tied for fourth-most in the NBA.
Still, the disparity can be often be diminished, since several of those dates feature a day off to re-energize in between. New Orleans will participate in just 10 games when it played the night before and its opponent did not, and the Pelicans have the advantage of playing games 12 times against teams that played the night before.
In all, the Pelicans will fly 50,144 miles this season. That's sixth-most in the NBA in distance traveled, and the most in the Southwest Division.
While these scheduling stats are being studied in front offices and by league personnel, one person who usually scoffs at them is Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, who believes much of the handwringing is overblown.
“I just don’t think it’s a very big deal until you get really late in the season or until you have a lot of injuries or something like that,” Gentry said before a game last December. “These guys all know how to play, and they get enough time off now that playing the night before or whatever doesn’t make much of a difference. Maybe if you’re really late in the year and you’ve played a bunch of games in a short amount of time, and they’re both on the road, it may matter, but I don’t think it matters that much.”
Still, it’s something many players admit they notice on the scouting report coming into a game, and it’s certainly an item of interest when the schedule is released.
“When the other team has played the night before and you’re fresh, you try to take advantage some and maybe play a little faster early on,” Anthony Davis said in March. “Sometimes if you played the night before, you aren’t as ready to start with, so you just kind of keep it mind.”