Men at work, at rest
Some teams handle back-to-back games better than others
On this Labor Day weekend, it feels appropriate to put the spotlight on the most labor-intensive stretch of an NBA season: the back-to-back.
For the uninitiated, a back-to-back is when a team plays in consecutive days and it usually occurs about 20 times for each team. It is an inevitable product of cramming an 82-game schedule in a span of seven-and-a-half months, and it's safe to say that organizations loathe those sections of the calendar.
Why? Well, it's exhausting, for one. Less sleep, less recovery time and less prep time.
But more importantly, teams just don't play as well. Players and coaches often whine about the grind of back-to-backs, and after putting their complaints under the microscope, we find they actually have a point: numbers nosedive during the second-game of a back-to-back.
Take the Denver Nuggets last season, for example. George Karl's squad went 50-32 last season, but if we dig deeper into their schedule, we realize how much they valued the day off. With at least one day of rest between games, the Nuggets were 40-23, scoring 110 points per 100 possessions on offense and allowing just 103.1 points per 100 possessions on defense. They played beautiful basketball when they were able to enjoy their beauty sleep.
But on back-to-backs? Different story. They won just 10 of their 19 restless contests as they watched their offensive efficiency dip to 107.7 and their defensive efficiency swell to 109.2. In fact, the Nuggets played nearly 10 points per 100 possessions worse when playing on a back-to-back, which amounts to the largest drop-off in the league. Put another way, 10-points worth of efficiency separated the Miami Heat and the 37-45 Indiana Pacers last season.
To read Tom Haberstroh's analysis of which teams are better with less rest from back-to-back games, become an ESPN Insider today.