NBA Starts Its Season Late

Due to labor disputes, the NBA started its season later than usual this year. But it's still playing about the same amount of games. For more, Audie Cornish talks to sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

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An update now on pro basketball's shorter than usual season. Thanks to a labor dispute between owners and players, the National Basketball Association began play almost two months late. But the NBA didn't trim its schedule nearly as much, which means teams are playing a lot of games in not a lot of time.

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now as he does most Fridays. Hi there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So just how compressed is this year's schedule?

FATSIS: Well, normally, NBA teams play 82 games apiece over 170 days and that works out to about a game every two-plus days. And at that pace, teams this season should be playing 57 games. But the NBA's owners and players needed to maximize revenue during the shortened season, so they decided to cram in 66 games.

It may not sound like a huge difference, but it really is. Every team has to play on three straight nights at least once. You're going to see stretches of five games in six nights, nine games in 12 nights, and for the players, the routine pounding of basketball, plus the travel, is going to be physically brutal and it's already having some effects.

CORNISH: In what ways? Where are you seeing it, on the court or off the court?

FATSIS: I think you're going to see it in both places. A lot of these games are going to be a little raggy because you're going to get a lot of bench players playing, players are going to be called up to fill in for injured players. And that's what we're seeing already.

About two-thirds of the league's 30 teams have had key players sit out games with injuries: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat, both watched the game from the sidelines last week. Derrick Rose of Chicago, Stephen Curry of Golden State, Carmelo Anthony of New York. The list goes on. Big name players are getting hurt on a daily basis.

To combat this wear and tear because of the schedule, teams are practicing less. They're going to rest important players more, but there's going to be pressure on these guys to come back sooner than maybe they should because, if you miss 10 days, you're going to miss a 10th of the season.

CORNISH: So does this help out the younger players or the more experienced players?

FATSIS: Well, normally, experience counts for a lot in the NBA. Last year, the oldest teams - Dallas, Boston, Los Angeles, San Antonio - they all did well. Dallas won its first title.

The thinking this year is that the compressed schedule is going to be especially burdensome for these older teams, though. The website Hoopism is doing a season long study of how teams are faring based on age, and so far, the older teams are doing better than the younger teams, overall, but we're only about 10 or 12 games into the season.

There are some interesting data points, though. The two oldest teams, in terms of age based on minutes that their players play are Dallas and Boston. They're off to very slow starts.

Two of the youngest teams, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, are off to great starts. It'll be interesting to see how this evolves as the season grinds on.

CORNISH: And, Stefan, one more thing before I let you go. I want to talk about this article that appeared in Sports Illustrated about Michael Jordan because it sort of busts the creation myth about him.

FATSIS: Yeah. It's a fantastic piece by Thomas Lake that appears in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated. Throughout Jordan's career, he's said that there's only one coach that ever cut him from a team and it was this guy Pop Herring. And Thomas Lake goes back and basically debunks this myth. He shows how Jordan, when he was in 10th grade, wasn't cut from the varsity. He didn't make the team. He made the JV instead. There was only one 10th grader on the varsity and he was on the team because he was much, much taller than Jordan and they needed size on this team.

But much more than taking apart this story that Jordan has told over and over in his career, this is a very sad story about the decline of this coach, Pop Herring, into mental illness at a very, very young age. Thomas Lake tracks him down and tells a very moving story about Michael Jordan's coach.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk sports. You can hear more of him on Slate magazine's sport podcast, "Hang Up and Listen."

Stefan, thanks so much.

FATSIS: Thank you, Audie.

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