Back to Backs in the NBA

I dont think anyone questions the perspective that teams playing on the 2nd game of back to backs are at a
disadvantage. Beyond fatique, the impact of travel, trying to adjust to time zone changes and more add up to make it
difficult for players and teams. Heck, I get tired from them, I cant imagine how tough it is on the guys.

Opinion aside, I decided to do some homework. With the help of Elias Sports and our stats gurus from Indiana
University, we were able to quantify the impact of both back to back games and 4 games in 5 nights.

Rather than providing the statistical mumbo jumbo, which wouldnt make sense without all the background and other
data, suffice it to say, that our analysis provides us with a comparison between any given team and what we feel to be
an average team. The best teams would be expected to win by 5 to 8 points at home against this average team. Less on
the road. THe worst teams would lose to the average team by 7 to 10 points at home.

For this season, through december 15th, the 2nd game of a back to back makes a team 3.5 points worst. In other
words, the best teams are still good, but on the 2nd game of back to back, particularly on the road, they become much
closer to average. Making them beatable.

Its far worse for the 4th game in 5 nights. ON those nights, a team is 8 points worse. Again, more on the road. So
basically, a team should lose to just about any but the worst teams if they are on the road.

Meaning, that the schedule gods can have a HUGE impact on the standings. That the day the Circus or a concert
is scheduled at your arena could block out a night, that would in turn force the schedule to create multiple 4 game in
5 nights situation and possibly cost a playoff seeding !

I dont have the number of either for this season as a whole yet. Im sure someone out there can get it done if so
inclined.

What i did get back from our friends at Elias are the W L records per team for the 2nd game of a back to back over
the last 5 years and through the 15th of dec for thisyear.

ATL 2001-02 Won-Lost: 8-14

ATL 2002-03 Won-Lost: 9-14

ATL 2003-04 Won-Lost: 7-14

ATL 2004-05 Won-Lost: 4-19

ATL 2005-06 Won-Lost: 0- 5

BOS 2001-02 Won-Lost: 7-13

BOS 2002-03 Won-Lost: 9-10

BOS 2003-04 Won-Lost: 8- 9

BOS 2004-05 Won-Lost: 12- 8

BOS 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 5

CHA 2004-05 Won-Lost: 6-17

CHA 2005-06 Won-Lost: 4- 4

CHI 2001-02 Won-Lost: 5-18

CHI 2002-03 Won-Lost: 5-18

CHI 2003-04 Won-Lost: 5-17

CHI 2004-05 Won-Lost: 13- 9

CHI 2005-06 Won-Lost: 4- 2

CLE 2001-02 Won-Lost: 6-17

CLE 2002-03 Won-Lost: 5-19

CLE 2003-04 Won-Lost: 8-12

CLE 2004-05 Won-Lost: 6-14

CLE 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 3

DAL 2001-02 Won-Lost: 13- 6

DAL 2002-03 Won-Lost: 11- 5

DAL 2003-04 Won-Lost: 12- 7

DAL 2004-05 Won-Lost: 12- 6

DAL 2005-06 Won-Lost: 3- 3

DEN 2001-02 Won-Lost: 4-16

DEN 2002-03 Won-Lost: 6-18

DEN 2003-04 Won-Lost: 11-12

DEN 2004-05 Won-Lost: 9-11

DEN 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 4

DET 2001-02 Won-Lost: 13-10

DET 2002-03 Won-Lost: 11-13

DET 2003-04 Won-Lost: 15- 8

DET 2004-05 Won-Lost: 12- 9

DET 2005-06 Won-Lost: 5- 2

GS 2001-02 Won-Lost: 5-18

GS 2002-03 Won-Lost: 10-10

GS 2003-04 Won-Lost: 9-13

GS 2004-05 Won-Lost: 9-11

GS 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 3

HOU 2001-02 Won-Lost: 4-15

HOU 2002-03 Won-Lost: 13- 8

HOU 2003-04 Won-Lost: 12- 7

HOU 2004-05 Won-Lost: 9- 7

HOU 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 4

IND 2001-02 Won-Lost: 10-13

IND 2002-03 Won-Lost: 12-11

IND 2003-04 Won-Lost: 15- 7

IND 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10-13

IND 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 3

LAC 2001-02 Won-Lost: 5-16

LAC 2002-03 Won-Lost: 6-13

LAC 2003-04 Won-Lost: 8-15

LAC 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10-12

LAC 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 3

LAL 2001-02 Won-Lost: 8-11

LAL 2002-03 Won-Lost: 11- 8

LAL 2003-04 Won-Lost: 10- 9

LAL 2004-05 Won-Lost: 5-14

LAL 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 4

MEM 2001-02 Won-Lost: 3-13

MEM 2002-03 Won-Lost: 6-14

MEM 2003-04 Won-Lost: 11-10

MEM 2004-05 Won-Lost: 12-11

MEM 2005-06 Won-Lost: 4- 3

MIA 2001-02 Won-Lost: 13- 9

MIA 2002-03 Won-Lost: 4-16

MIA 2003-04 Won-Lost: 10-13

MIA 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10- 6

MIA 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 4

MIL 2001-02 Won-Lost: 11- 9

MIL 2002-03 Won-Lost: 9-14

MIL 2003-04 Won-Lost: 10-10

MIL 2004-05 Won-Lost: 8-12

MIL 2005-06 Won-Lost: 4- 2

MIN 2001-02 Won-Lost: 10- 9

MIN 2002-03 Won-Lost: 12- 8

MIN 2003-04 Won-Lost: 13- 7

MIN 2004-05 Won-Lost: 9-12

MIN 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 2

NJ 2001-02 Won-Lost: 12- 8

NJ 2002-03 Won-Lost: 10-10

NJ 2003-04 Won-Lost: 7-13

NJ 2004-05 Won-Lost: 9-11

NJ 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 3

CHA 2001-02 Won-Lost: 8-11

NO 2002-03 Won-Lost: 11-11

NO 2003-04 Won-Lost: 11-11

NO 2004-05 Won-Lost: 5-18

NOK 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 4

NY 2001-02 Won-Lost: 7-10

NY 2002-03 Won-Lost: 2-17

NY 2003-04 Won-Lost: 10-10

NY 2004-05 Won-Lost: 5-16

NY 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 2

ORL 2001-02 Won-Lost: 6-15

ORL 2002-03 Won-Lost: 7-12

ORL 2003-04 Won-Lost: 5-15

ORL 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10-11

ORL 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 4

PHI 2001-02 Won-Lost: 9-12

PHI 2002-03 Won-Lost: 12- 8

PHI 2003-04 Won-Lost: 6-13

PHI 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10- 9

PHI 2005-06 Won-Lost: 3- 4

PHO 2001-02 Won-Lost: 6-13

PHO 2002-03 Won-Lost: 6-14

PHO 2003-04 Won-Lost: 6-15

PHO 2004-05 Won-Lost: 17- 5

PHO 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 4

POR 2001-02 Won-Lost: 10-13

POR 2002-03 Won-Lost: 11-12

POR 2003-04 Won-Lost: 9- 8

POR 2004-05 Won-Lost: 7-13

POR 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 3

SAC 2001-02 Won-Lost: 13- 9

SAC 2002-03 Won-Lost: 11- 8

SAC 2003-04 Won-Lost: 7-12

SAC 2004-05 Won-Lost: 7-10

SAC 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 5

SA 2001-02 Won-Lost: 17- 4

SA 2002-03 Won-Lost: 13- 5

SA 2003-04 Won-Lost: 13- 6

SA 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10- 9

SA 2005-06 Won-Lost: 0- 3

SEA 2001-02 Won-Lost: 9-13

SEA 2002-03 Won-Lost: 9-11

SEA 2003-04 Won-Lost: 11-12

SEA 2004-05 Won-Lost: 11- 8

SEA 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 2

TOR 2001-02 Won-Lost: 10- 9

TOR 2002-03 Won-Lost: 1-17

TOR 2003-04 Won-Lost: 4-12

TOR 2004-05 Won-Lost: 5-12

TOR 2005-06 Won-Lost: 1- 5

UTA 2001-02 Won-Lost: 10-11

UTA 2002-03 Won-Lost: 9-10

UTA 2003-04 Won-Lost: 8-12

UTA 2004-05 Won-Lost: 6-15

UTA 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 5

WAS 2001-02 Won-Lost: 7-13

WAS 2002-03 Won-Lost: 12- 9

WAS 2003-04 Won-Lost: 7-14

WAS 2004-05 Won-Lost: 11-12

WAS 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 3

39 thoughts on “Back to Backs in the NBA

  1. Vegas adjusts the lines. According to my database, teams without any rest are 1108-1465 (43.1%) since the start of 2001-2002 season. Against the line, teams without any rest are 1219-1309-45 (48.2%).

    Comment by Mike -

  2. Have you had your numbers gurus crunch this from the perspective of those that have money on the line, that is, the Vegas linemakers (no pun intended)?

    Does the line drop on a team playing the second game of a back to back versus what it otherwise would have been?

    Comment by Kevin Yeats -

  3. Kobe 62. Dallas 61.
    1 vs 14.

    1 > 14

    Kobe > mavericks

    Comment by Bill Frady -

  4. Yo Paul K– totally with you, and great point. BUT, is it about 80 games? Or is it about back-to-back games?

    Really, the big questions here are:

    1.) Team owners are here to reap profits. They make money by (GameProfits + Playoff Profits + Licensing Profits + TeamDecisions) – (Operating Costs + TeamDecisions + ThingsWeCanWriteOff). More games ALWAYS equals more money. Tell me I’m wrong Mark that if we made sure there were only 20 games in this season, and every player was fresh, even if you won every game, you’d make less money than having your team lose 80 games this year.

    2.) At what point does Basketball start losing money for starting too early (remember there are baseball and football fans).

    3.) At what point does Basketball start losing money for going too long (remember there are hockey, baseball, and football fans).

    I think it’s ridiculous that baseball teams play 160+ games, and I think it’s ridiculous that a hockey team plays almost as many games to win the Stanley Cup as it does to play a regular season. Then again, basketball has a silly limit, too.

    Mark, insight on this for a more realistic perspective from an owners point of view?

    Comment by Kevin Glennon -

  5. Kobe. 62.

    Haha.

    Comment by T-Dizzle -

  6. My one question relates to the note you make about the points scored in the second back-to-back game (or the 4th game in 5 days). In basketball, to say a team scores 8 points less in a certain situation does not necessarily mean that they are playing WORSE. Because it’s a possession game with a time clock, it’s entirely possible that this team playing for the second night in a row is just plain tired and playing SLOWER.

    So, while the team playing the 4th in 5 nights might score 8 points less, maybe their opponents score 8 less as well. Or maybe it’s just a smaller effect, like 8 points less versus 6.

    Ideally, I think what you’d want to compare the change in the fatigued team’s scoring to the change in the opponent/control team’s scoring. Then you can use the Pythagorean Win/Loss formula (I think the exponent is around 16.5 for basketball, depending on scoring environment) to actually calculate the change in the chance of the fatigued team of winning. Add up all these chances over the season to get a final number of wins (or fractions thereof) in which a team gains or loses due to scheduling like this.

    Comment by Mike L -

  7. Back-to-back games seem to be having a big impact on teams so far this year; however, the impact isn’t nearly as great when you look at the last four full seasons. See http://www.lowpost.net/blog/2005/12/23/the_schedule_gods_arent_that_important.html for more details.

    Comment by Jason -

  8. What jumped out at me most was the progressive decline for the Spurs in these situations — possible evidence of an aging club. You can also see where the Cavs were moribund. This is good and useful data that I would certainly show to players, because that second night is about gut checks and good old-fashioned coaching psychology. It’s easy to mail that one in, even with greater creature comforts in travel than we had in the late ’80s. Your body always has to “come back.” I covered your Mavs during the Harp/Ro/Mr. Moody/Sam/Alarm Clock Roy/James/AD/BD glory days in my media days and my life was traveling with and following these second-nighters and wondering where you just woke up (“Is that the Wasatch?”)…pre-Starbucks.

    Mark, I appreciate all you do with this blog and it’s on my Firefox toolbar as must reading. Am now with MLB. Wish I could just talk technology-and-opportunity with you for 15 minutes. Keep leading the way and def it up.

    MAN

    Comment by Mark -

  9. You can call me a hater if you want, but I don’t want to hear another word about KOBE. Let’s just move on.

    Comment by rystal -

  10. Kobe played the best game of this life…bottom line. The Lakers are still a subpar team. True Kobe is near the top of NBA top scorers but Dirk still has a better FG% and TF%.
    That being said, I always appreciate it when you think of some new statistics for us to chew over! Thanks…
    Also, could you PLEASE tell Tim Keown on ESPN’s Second Page that the Mav’s no longer play in Reunion? Come on man…
    “Really, when you get right down to it, there is no earthly reason for a professional athlete to care this much: Mavs guard Darrell Armstrong took the microphone at Dallas’ Reunion Arena before Sunday’s game and said, “How ’bout those Redskins!”
    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=keown/051220

    Comment by jocelynbreann -

  11. Hey Mark,

    One good thing about the back-to-back this week in Sacramento tonight and Seattle tomorrow is that we finally get to see the Mavericks back-to-back and back-with-STACK!

    I have missed Jerry Stackhouse’s overall play so far this season and am so proud of the gang for putting up the amazing WL record so far. As for back-to-backers, I fear them not because we have the best depth in the league. Consider them character builders… and it will help everyone on the team prepare for the crazy travel schedule they’ll be seeing in May and June. Yes, I said June. Mavs will be in finals.

    See you tonight in cowtown, as I’ll be making the drive from Chico and be sitting with the enemy… Kings fans…. ugh!

    greg

    Comment by greg -

  12. Looking at the stats that Mr. Cuban has posted, the Mavs have the BEST record of all NBA teams, posting winning records all 5 years.

    I wonder if the NBA would consider making the playoffs all back to back games…can you imagine a 7 game series where you change the court EVERY night. I’m not talking about a 2-2-1-1-1 or a 2-3-2, but rather a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 series. Travel every night, seven days straight…playoffs!!! Each series starts on Monday with the seventh game scheduled for Sunday…round 2 starts the following Monday…and so on.

    No it will never happen and it’s a stupid idea, but for me it’s kinda fun to imagine all those back to back games, as a fan it would be a blast!!!

    Comment by 92bDad -

  13. TV ratings also play into scheduling. Good teams are on TV and usually at home, which would probably put them against a lesser team on the road and possibly in a back to back game. Of course there are exceptions such as Nationally Televised games like Christmas or Highly publicized games in which they would want a good game.

    Comment by Vincent -

  14. What I find interesting is the total number of back-to-backs that each team plays, relative to their preseason likelihood of making it deep into the playoffs. (ie: does the NBA give the good teams a break?)

    for the 2004-05 season:
    MIAMI – 16
    HOUSTON – 16
    SACTO – 17
    DALLAS – 18
    SAN ANTONIO – 19

    whereas:
    ATLANTA – 23
    CHARLOTTE – 23
    NO – 23
    CHICAGO – 22 (no one really thought they’d be that good last year)

    The one exception here might have been INDIANA playing 23 btb’s. It’s also interesting to see that Dallas hasn’t had more than 19 in your sample size, while the league continues to torture Indiana, giving them at least 22 in all 4 of the previous seasons.

    I think this, as much as anything else, is something to look into when you question the scheduling techniques of the NBA.

    And you wonder about Cleveland, too. They were in the 23/24 range and then they draft Lebron and the next two years they go down to 20. Maybe it’s just random, but there’s a lot of questions that can be raised from these numbers.

    Comment by Kyle -

  15. The results of the first game of the back-to-back probably have an influence too. Did they win? Was it a close game? Was it a blowout (where the players could rest)? etc.

    As an aside, since I worked yesterday, I wonder if my boss will let me take off today, so I can be more productive tomorrow… ;)

    Comment by Jarid -

  16. I may be wrong because I don’t follow the rest of the NBA as much as I do the Mavs, but with the exception of Detroit, the teams with winning records of back-to-back games are fairly young. At least for this season, so if penxv could factor that in as well with the wash of both teams playing back to back.

    Comment by PaulD -

  17. I agree with penxv, teams that both play on a back-to-back should be a wash. I also find it interesting that both DAL and SA have winning records for all five years of back to backs.

    Comment by Toby -

  18. Here is an interesting stat which might be more statistically meaningful: The Celtics are now 5-0 this season when their opponent has played the night before and they have been idle.

    Comment by Kyle Sullivan -

  19. Just thought it interesting to note that the Celtics finally won 2 games in a row, but both wins came against teams playing the 2nd of back-to-back games, and both on the road too. There’s no doubt that helped.

    Comment by Phil -

  20. Mark —

    Good analysis. Lets extend it to baseball and hockey. Although– I would assume the upper echelons in the leagues would inately realize this and try to utilize this to help really poor teams win in thier home markets more. Attendence is what makes a team profitable right? And when all is said and done, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL or anyother major league’s top goal is to make money.

    Comment by Dave H -

  21. Good stuff, penxv. It clearly does have a real effect.

    Some more thoughts: to really see the full effect, you would need to compare each team’s performance in game 2 of back to backs vs. performance the rest of the season, and over several years. I suspect you would get some interesting results about what type of team is more adversely affected and possibly about how aging plays into it (for example, run and gun vs. half-court oriented, teams with younger players vs. older players, etc.). How about also looking into numbers of injuries in the second game of b2bs?

    To Kevin Glennon: You don’t have to change scheduling policies to do some valuable stuff with this info–maybe redistribute minutes or adjust play style at times.

    Comment by Paul K -

  22. If you would look a little deeper into the stats and give me all of the games where a team that played for the second night in a row played a team that came off of a day off, then the effect of playing two nights in a row would be better measured.

    – It’s because then… you would be comparing it 1 to 1 with what you want to compare it to.

    – In the stats that you gave, I bet that many of the games had both teams playing for the second night in a row. Making that game a wash (50-50). And it would throw off the sample size.

    Comment by penxv -

  23. The sample size is 2557. Giving us a 1.9% margin of error.

    Comment by penxv -

  24. Mark,
    The raw numbers are this… 1100 wins and 1457 losses.

    That is a 43% winning percentage with a fairly large sample size.

    Comment by penxv -

  25. I totally hear you Mark. You’re ABSOLUTELY right.

    Let’s follow the lead of the NFL. Let’s make basketball season 16 weeks, and only schedule one game each week. That should remove any doubt that your athletes are at their prime, right?

    I’m sure performance is the standard by which all owners measure their teams. Profitability due to an obnoxious number of games in the short season has nothing to do with it.

    Just like how you’ll never consider advertisements on the uniforms, right? Because we care so much about how players can’t afford nice suits when they’re on the bench, why open the discussion for even MORE costs for the patches on the uniforms?

    Dude, do you ever read your own posts? Seriously?

    Comment by Kevin Glennon -

  26. I would guess that the next logical question is what are the teams with the most back-to-back games? Also, depending on the arena and city, who has the final say on dates [hockey/concerts/basketball/etc]. Does a bigger market team have the clout to schedule fewer consecutive games?

    Comment by Mike G. -

  27. good

    Comment by imdbcn -

  28. I would assume the upper echelons in the leagues would inately realize this and try to utilize this to help really poor teams win in thier home markets more. Attendence is what makes a team profitable right? And when all is said and done, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL or anyother major league’s top goal is to make money.

    Comment by runescape money -

  29. I suspect you would get some interesting results about what type of team is more adversely affected and possibly about how aging plays into it (for example, run and gun vs. half-court oriented, teams with younger players vs. older players, etc.).

    Comment by wow powerleveling -

  30. It’s clear that it is difficult to play with the same intensity after a back-to-back

    Comment by whales -

  31. Phil Jackson, after the Lakers win over the Spurs last night (3/10):

    ["That's the attrition of the schedule in this league," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Playing back-to-backs like that (on consecutive nights) can throw a team off."] source: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/recap;_ylt=AsygWFReZri25NQ6gu8FzBa8vLYF?gid=2006031024&prov=ap

    Mr. Cuban wrote in this entry:

    ["For this season, through december 15th, the 2nd game of a back to back makes a team 3.5 points worst. In other words, the best teams are still good, but on the 2nd game of back to back, particularly on the road, they become much closer to average. Making them beatable."] source: http://www.blogmaverick.com/entry/1234000793073432

    Comment by John -

  32. Are the winners w/rest versus the line 51.8% or are they closer to 48.2% with a 3.6% push?

    Comment by down -

  33. Those back-to-back account for half of Detroit’s losses and a good number of San Antonio’s.. It’s clear that it is difficult to play with the same intensity after a back-to-back

    Comment by Justin -

  34. So the question I would have is whether the schedule last year for the mavs (without the stars playing) was demonstrably easier/harder than this years.

    Comment by Danny -

  35. Mike, if your stat (teams w/o rest vs teams w/ rest are 48.2% winners versus the line) is correct then the line does not adjust correctly or sufficiently. Theoritically, the winning versus the line should be 50%, especially with this large sample.

    Are the winners w/rest versus the line 51.8% or are they closer to 48.2% with a 3.6% push?

    If the former, there is money to be made.

    Comment by Kevin Yeats -

  36. I seems like the ability to win back to backs is correlated with the teams that are perceived to be ‘regular season’ teams.

    Of the good teams, Miami, SA, Detroit and Indiana seem like the teams built to win in the playoffs. And Dallas and Phoenix seem like teams that are suited to win lots of regular season games.
    IND 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10-13
    IND 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 3
    SA 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10- 9
    SA 2005-06 Won-Lost: 0- 3
    DET 2004-05 Won-Lost: 12- 9
    DET 2005-06 Won-Lost: 5- 2
    MIA 2004-05 Won-Lost: 10- 6
    MIA 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 4
    DAL 2004-05 Won-Lost: 12- 6
    DAL 2005-06 Won-Lost: 3- 3
    PHO 2004-05 Won-Lost: 17- 5
    PHO 2005-06 Won-Lost: 2- 4

    Well, the stats from this year don’t show it very well, but looking at the 2004 results, Miami looked like it was more of a regular season than a playoff team.

    Comment by mark -

  37. Well, I must say that all of the stats and the posts have been intriguing. and,without a doubt, having to play back-to-backs takes a toll on the players no matter how you look at it.
    Upon review of the stats SA and the Mavs have been very good in back-to-backs. The major difference in the two teams is that SA has managed to win two championships in that time.

    Comment by Ron -

  38. Good stuff, I often do informal examinations of that stuff. I’d be curious to see the data on games involving one team playing the second night of a back-to-back against a team that has had more than one day off.

    Comment by Larry -

  39. Mike,
    I always thought that gambling lines were adjusted according to the gambling market.

    For instance, If team x is favored by 9 over team y… and more money is being gambled on team y… then the spread will shrink until a roughly equal amount of money is being gambled on both teams.

    But I bet that the odds makers take the “back-to-back” effect into account for their original lines.

    Comment by penxv -

Comments are closed.