Attempting to reduce wear on its players, the NBA opened its season two weeks earlier this year, a change that reduced the number of back-to-back games and ensured teams now won’t play four games in five nights.
By doing so, it also essentially moved its annual All-Star Game back, even though it still occupies the same third weekend in February.
When the Timberwolves reached their needed eight-day schedule break Friday, they had played 61 games with just 21 to go.
If Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game remains the “Midsummer Classic,” the NBA’s version isn’t mid-anything and Wolves players and coach Tom Thibodeau have noticed.
In their particular case, a lengthened season supposed to lighten demands on teams has been burdened by a travel schedule that has sent the Wolves from time zone to time zone as well as back home to play just one game nine times already this season.
“The whole NBA needs a break,” Wolves veteran guard Jeff Teague said. “It has probably been the longest season I’ve been a part of. The traveling is pretty tough. I don’t think our schedule was the friendliest. It has been a very long season. This is the worst I’ve ever been a part of.”
Teague played his first eight NBA seasons in Atlanta and Indiana, but this is his first in Minnesota, where the Wolves are isolated geographically. Situated at the far reaches of their Western Conference as well, they’re among the league leaders in miles flown every year.
But their disjointed schedule and a break that now comes three-quarters through an 82-game season has made this time around seem worse rather than better.
By Sunday’s All-Star Game, all 30 NBA teams have played the most combined games ever by the break. Maybe it’s coincidence, but four chosen All Stars — DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, John Wall and Kristaps Porzingis — are out for months because of significant injuries.
“You can tell there’s a big difference,” Wolves veteran forward Taj Gibson said. “A lot of guys are getting hurt. The fatigue is there. You have to think everyone on every team is going through the same … The league is going to do what they’re going to do. They may change with all the injuries of late, but who knows? We can complain all we want. We can take it to the players’ union. It’s really up to the league.”
Thibodeau said All-Star weekend should be “more in the middle” so the break doesn’t come so late in the 82-game schedule.
“Just my opinion,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a reason why it isn’t. It seems like it would make a lot more sense when it’s in the middle of the season.”
One probable reason: The NFL season schedules its playoffs through January and usually plays the Super Bowl the first Sunday in February.
The NBA has awarded All-Star Games through 2021 and all three of them remain scheduled for mid-February.
Thibodeau praises the league for seeking solutions such as starting the season earlier. He suggested that shortening the All-Star break could add back extra days after the break was lengthened to give players, particularly those who participate in All-Star weekend itself, more rest.
“We’re taking a hard look at it,” Thibodeau said. “We have to think about how we could do it better. I think the league is, too. There are some good ideas that are coming about … For us to play seven games in October, five in April and then have a stretch where we play 22 games in 35, 36 days [actually, 20 in 35] sort of defeats the purpose of it. At the end, you’re playing 82 games and you have to manage it."
• Golden State’s Steve Kerr generated headlines and internet buzz when he turned the coaching over to his players during a lopsided victory over Phoenix last week.
Houston coach Mike D’Antoni doesn’t consider giving his players — James Harden and Chris Paul, to name two — their voice a revelation.
“I’ve never taken it from them,” D’Antoni said. “James and Chris, they have ideas. They have plays. They do it all the time. It’s nothing new.”
• Not that he ever would because it’s just not his nature, but which of his players would Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau hands the keys to his team if he were to do something like Kerr did?
“That’s a good question,” Thibodeau said. “You know, most of the guys think the game, they see the game. Oftentimes, you’re going to ask your players what they see out there. I think usually your veterans who have been around and seen a lot of the different defenses, they know the things they like and can take advantage of situations.”
• Wolves young star Karl-Anthony Towns and his parents Karl and Jacqueline have launched their “KAT Team” foundation which will create scholarships for young adults nationally and work to increase literacy in underserved communities.
It also will continue the family’s partnership with New Jersey’s REED Foundation for Autism through a Pledge It campaign in which donors can contribute 10 cents, a $1 or more for every point Towns scores. Funds raised will be split between Kat Team and the REED Foundation. Visit pledgeit.org/kat-for-kids for more information.
WOLVES WEEK AHEAD
Friday: 7 p.m. at Houston, FSN/ESPN
Saturday: 8 p.m. vs. Chicago, FSN
Player to watch: Zach LaVine, Bulls
He beat his former team by scoring Chicago’s last eight points in a 114-113 win a week ago and now returns to Target Center to play for the first time since last summer’s trade sent him, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen away for Jimmy Butler.
“This is all because of Flip, everything. This is his vision. So everything here is because of him.”
The Wolves’ Andrew Wiggins on the team’s late coach/president of basketball Flip Saunders, who chose Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyus Jones to play in Minnesota. He also envisioned its modern Mayo Clinic Square practice facility.