The NBA 2019-20 schedule dropped on Monday afternoon with some trends continuing — fewer back-to-backs among them — and a dramatic shift in start times.
It’s here and now we can start planning what to watch, with the release Monday of the 2019-20 NBA schedule.
The league will open its 74th season with a doubleheader on TNT on Oct. 22, according to a press release, with the defending champion Toronto Raptors raising their banner before they host the new-look New Orleans Pelicans in the opener at 8 p.m. Eastern.
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The nightcap on opening night will feature the amped-up battle of the Hollywood, with the Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers tangling for the first of four regular-season meetings at Staples Center, with the Clips getting the home-court advantage.
The Lakers added superstar Anthony Davis in the offseason, while the Clippers signed Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and NBA MVP finalist Paul George. Tip off for the second game on opening night is set for 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
But in a seismic scheduling shift, ESPN is dropping all of its 8 p.m./10:30 p.m. Eastern Wednesday doubleheaders off its schedule. Of the 21 twinbills set for the network, 15 will have start times of 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern, with the other six scheduled for 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. tips.
Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press pointed to viewership trends as a reason driving the change.
But the earlier starts for teams in the West is more than just a television trend, as Shams Charania of The Athletic reports:
TNT’s 31 doubleheaders will also feature some earlier start times, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who reported that 12 of TNT’s double-dips will start earlier than 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Eastern.
Other trends on the schedule include a continued reduction in the number of times teams will play back-to-back games, with no team playing more than 15 and the league average of 12.4 back-to-backs per team setting a new record-low for the fifth consecutive season.
Teams averaged 13.3 back-to-backs last season and the number has dipped enormously from the 19.3 per team figure in 2014-15.
Similarly, this will be the third consecutive season that no team will have a stretch of four games in five nights.
The Christmas Day slate had been released last week and will include five games on ESPN and ABC that will begin at noon Eastern and continue through the afternoon and evening hours (all times Eastern).
- Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors, noon (ESPN)
- Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers, 2:30 p.m. (ABC)
- Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors, 5 p.m. (ABC)
- LA Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers, 8 p.m. (ESPN/ABC)
- New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)
For Denver, it will be their first home game on Christmas Day since 1994.
TNT will air three games on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 20), with a matinee game set for NBA TV as well (all times Eastern).
- Toronto Raptors at Atlanta Hawks, 2:30 p.m. (NBA TV)
- New Orleans Pelicans at Memphis Grizzlies, 5 p.m. (TNT)
- Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)
- Golden State Warriors at Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. (TNT)
Back to the earlier start times, of the combined 67 doubleheaders scheduled between TNT and ESPN, only 33 — less than half — will have start times of 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Eastern, down from 57 such schedule pairings a season ago.
As for the national appearances, the Warriors are still a hot ticket for the networks. Golden State will be on national TV a league-high 43 times this season, one more than the Lakers’ 42. Those totals include NBA TV appearances.
As for appearances on the more-widely viewed networks (ESPN/ABC and TNT), here are the totals:
No team will be on ESPN/ABC more than the Lakers’ 20 appearances, with the Warriors topping the TNT slate with 13 dates.
However, none of this is quite carved in stone — TNT. ESPN, ABC and NBA TV all have the ability to flex games off and on to their programming schedules in order to get the best matchups in front of the widest audiences.
The regular season will end on April 15, with the postseason set to begin on April 18.
Now comes the 10-week wait, with some FIBA World Cup and preseason tilts to whet the appetite in between.