How the NBA Schedule is Made

1. Building The NBA Schedule

Getting started in February, NBA schedule has usually been released in the first weeks of August. The NBA sets the league schedule to accomplish two goals: competitive balance, and reduction of costs. The final regular season schedule has to be efficient from a competitive standpoint with an indirect consideration of travel costs.

Factors that have an impact on setting NBA schedule can be summarized as follows:

1.1. NBA Scheduling Formula

  • According to NBA scheduling formula that was effective before 2023-2024 season, a total of 1230 regular season games were being scheduled in the offseason and each team had to play 82 games. Breakdown:
    • 4 games against the other 4 division opponents (4×4=16 games)
    • 4 games* against 6 (out-of-division) conference opponents (4×6=24 games)
    • 3 games against the remaining 4 conference teams (3×4=12 games)
    • 2 games against teams in the opposing conference (2×15=30 games)
    • * A five-year rotation determined which out-of-division conference teams are played only 3 times.

  • With the 2023-2024 season, a total of 1200 regular season and tournament games have been scheduled in the offseason which makes 80 games per team, but teams still have 82 games to play. Here’s how:
    • A total of 1164 regular season games = 1120 games scheduled in the offseason + 44 to-be-scheduled games between the 22 teams who failed to advance to Knockout round
    • A total of 66 in-season tournament games that count towards regular season standings. In the in-season tournament, there 60 “Group Play” games + 6 “Knockout Rounds” games. Breakdown:
      • All of the 30 teams will play 4 “Group Play” games: 2 games on the road, 2 games at home)
      • 8 teams who advance will play 4 quarter-final games in the 1st Round of Knockout
      • 4 teams who advance will play 2 semifinal games in the 2nd Round of Knockout) on neutral site
      • 2 teams who advance will play 1 championship game (NBA Cup Final) on neutral site, but note that this game doesn’t count towards regular season standings.

Do The Math
Access to NBA league schedule in Excel. It includes all regular season and tournament games with dates, game-time, opponent and rest day information.

1.2. Court Availability

All teams, about a month before the end of the preceding regular season, have to submit to the NBA office a list of:

  • At least 50 dates on which their home court will be available
  • 4 Mondays
  • 4 Thursdays (to help TNT plan its telecasts)

1.3. Official Breaks

On which no games are played:

  • Christmas eve
  • The all-star game
  • NCAA championship game

1.4. Conflicts

The conflicts such as NHL games on the same court have to be resolved.

1.5. National TV & Local Broadcasters

Games can be moved to satisfy the NBA’s national TV partners (ABC, ESPN, and TNT). For that reason, game times can be tweaked. Casting marquee matchups and playoff contenders’ games on the most desirable nights can change scheduling.

2. Recent History of Building The NBA Schedule

In September 2014, Matt Winick, former Senior Vice President of Scheduling and Game Operations, stepped down from his duties. He had been the architect of the NBA schedule for more than 20 seasons.

In his interview with ESPN, he unveiled how he responds to complaints about strength of schedule, how tight the back-to-back games are scheduled and other common questions on building the NBA schedule.

Matt Winick had a complicated system that assigned a point value, to each date or series of dates that the franchises made available. The point system rewarded a team for making several consecutive dates available instead of insisting on a particular date. Each time team must have at least 50 points. Generally, teams were playing 3.5 games in a week and 82 games took roughly 165-170 days through the end of the regular season.

Evan Wasch (Senior Vice President of Basketball Strategy & Analytics), who has taken over scheduling responsibilities after Matt Winick, has presented the most recent challenges and improvements in NBA scheduling at 2016 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.

For the last few seasons, Evan Walsh, Tom Carelli (Senior Vice President of Broadcasting) and their colleagues have dived deeper into arena availability of 29 different buildings so they could minimize the number of nights where a tired team will face a well-rested, fresh opponent. Starting from the 2017-18 season, an extra week is added, which extends the 1230-game schedule to 176 days. With doing so, fourth game in five nights are eliminated for the first time in NBA history.

2.1. NBA 2020-2021 72-Game Regular Season Format

Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, the 82-game schedule was reduced 10 games.
Each team had to play:

  • 42 Intra-Conference Games
    • 3 games against the 14 opponents in the same conference (3×14=42 games).
    • The league randomly assigned either a team will play (two home games and one road game) or (one home game and two road games) with opponents in the same conference.
    • As conferences have 3 divisions; a division team will play 2 home games with one other division’s all teams, and 2 road games with the remaining division’s all teams.
  • 30 Inter-Conference Games
    • 2 games against the 15 opponents in the opposing conference (2×15=30 games).
    • Inter-conference games will feature one home game and one road game.

2.2. Play-in Tournament

Despite harsh criticism from star players, the NBA will allow teams to battle in the play-in games for the final two spots. This format was tried for the first time in the Bubble (2019/20).
Once the regular season concludes, [#7 vs. #8] and [#9 vs. #10] teams will play a game in each conference. Where;

  • winner of the [#7 vs. #8] matchup gets the 7th seed in the playoffs.
  • loser of the [#7 vs. #8] matchup will play another game with the winner of [#9th vs. #10th] for the last 8th seed.

2.3. In-Season Tournament

An in-season tournament has been discussed for a long time, and it has now come to reality. The new, 67-game competition will feature all 30 teams and will begin with the 2023–24 season. Tournament wins and losses count against a team’s regular-season record.

2.3.1. Motive to Win In-Season Tournament

The winner of the tournament gets “the NBA Cup“. Plus, players on teams that make it to the quarterfinals or further will get more money: $500,000 for each player on the winning team, $200,000 for each player on the runner-up team, $100,000 for each player on a team that loses in the semifinals, and $50,000 for each player on a team that loses in the quarterfinals. There will also be an MVP and an all-tournament team will be selected.

2.3.2. In-Season Tournament Format

Round-robin group play is followed by single-elimination for the final eight teams: quarterfinals, semifinals, and final. Each conference will be divided into three five-team groups who will be decided by a random draw based on regular-season records in the 2022-23 season:

Pot 1: Conference’s 3 best W/L records in the last season.
Pot 2: 4th, 5th, 6th best las-season record
Pot 3: 7th, 8th, 9th best prior-season record
Pot 4: 10th through 12th best last season record
Pot 5: 13th through 15th best last season record

NBA In-Season Tournament Picture credit

Each team will play two games at home and two on the road against the other teams in its group. The winners of each group, together with one wild card from each conference (the team with the best record that finished second in its group), progress to the quarterfinals. Except for the semifinals and final, all games will be played in NBA markets.

3. Making NBA Viewership Great Again

Here are some ideas that would possibly work fine to improve TV ratings:

3.1. Changing The Playoffs Format

The current format of playoffs (western and eastern conference winners battle in the finals) has always been a debate come the playoffs time. Removing conferences would allow a good western team would still make the playoffs over the worse teams in the East. Non-finals playoff series between higher-quality teams would be much more competitive and generate more 7-games series which will lead the NBA to have better TV ratings and get more interaction over social media and digital platforms. Evan Wasch has explained why it won’t be feasible in terms of costs and traveling across time zones.

3.2. Pushing NBA Season to Start in December

One major benefit in the long-term would be obvious: Higher ratings. This opinion was first publicly supported by Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin at MIT Sloan Sports Analytics 2020 Conference. He said no conflict with NFL or MLB playoffs would increase viewership.

Trending Now on NBAstuffer

NBA Analytic Departments
The list includes NBA basketball analytics professionals who are assigned to various analytics jobs inside the franchises.

NBA Front Offices
Links to front office staff of NBA teams. Find out more about organizational structure of each NBA franchise.

Box Score Stats
Looking for a starting point to NBA analytics? Check out box score stats & Vegas odds & rest days for past seasons.

Play-by-Play Logs
Learn more about having a powerful dataset of NBA play-by-play logs which include shot distance & x,y coordinates.

Usage Rate
Find out how the usage rate is calculated and its impact to the player efficiency.

We try to keep this content unique and up-to-date. Consider using the social media buttons below, or add the page URL when sharing it anywhere.