THE LOS ANGELES Lakers will play games on the first three nights of the NBA season, the first of 42 back-to-back-to-back sets teams will face during this lockout-shortened season.
The NBA announced the compacted, 66-game schedule last night, one that will require every team to play on three consecutive nights at least once. And it will force every team to navigate demanding stretches that are never seen during a full season, such as the nine games in 12 nights the Atlanta Hawks face starting with their Dec. 27 opener.
The league's 66th season begins with five games on Christmas, including the Lakers hosting the Chicago Bulls. Los Angeles then visits Sacramento the next night before returning home to host Utah on Dec. 27.
Teams will play 48 conference games and 18 against the opposing conference, meaning they play only three nonconference opponents home and away. The league did preserve its most storied rivalry, with the Lakers traveling to Boston for a Feb. 9 matchup before the Celtics open a stretch of eight road games in 13 nights in March with games on back-to-back nights at the Staples Center against the Lakers and Clippers.
Dallas and Miami also will meet twice, following their Christmas NBA Finals rematch with a March 12 game in Miami. The Heat and Lakers also play twice.
The 50-game 1999 season featured 64 sets of back-to-back-to-backs and was plagued by sloppy basketball being played on fatigued legs. The NBA faces a similar predicament now after failing to reach a new labor deal in time to save the Nov. 1 start to the season.
Instead, a tentative agreement was reached on Nov. 26. Lawyers for the owners and players are still finalizing the rest of the deal, with both sides expected to vote on it tomorrow before training camps and free agency open on Friday.
Miami will appear on ABC or ESPN 16 times, the most allowable, followed by 15 appearances apiece for the Lakers and Bulls. The Lakers and Celtics each appear a league-high 10 times on TNT.
The regular season is scheduled to conclude April 26 and the playoffs will open 2 nights later. The last possible date of the NBA Finals is June 26.
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