Professional sports are highly dependent on revenue from television and fans. Their survival is linked to maintaining the interest and the public’s support during the whole season. This might be the reason why more and more games are being played and the intensity of the game is increasingly high. The NBA’s usual season consists of 82 games that are played in just 5 and a half months. It breaks down to a game being played every 2 days on average. An ACB League team that also participates in the Euro League could play 83 games in 8 and a half months of competition. In other words, on average, a game is played every 3 days. Coaches and players point out that playing too many games with such short recovery time can be detrimental to health, and it might also be a disadvantage when the opposing team has had more days of rest. Are these teams with less time of rest between two games less likely to win? How does an overloaded competition schedule affect the performance of teams?
Recent research1 has studied how recovery time between two games affects the performance of the game and the probability of winning in elite basketball. The study, published in the European Journal of Sport Science magazine in 2020, analysed the 82 games played by each NBA team during the 2016-17 season. Resting between each cycle of two games was classified into four different categories: Games played on consecutive days, with one day of rest, with two days of rest, or three or more days of rest. Additionally, the effect of playing at home and the opponent’s level in the probability of winning games was measured.
The results suggest some very relevant conclusions: (i) The frequency of games won or lost was strongly related to the number of days of rest between games. The number of games lost was significantly higher when played on two consecutive days than compared to when there were several days of recovery in-between. Compared to a cycle of 2 consecutive games, the probability of winning a game increased by 37.6% when teams had at least one day of recovery. However, there was no difference when teams had more days of recovery. Having one, two, or three days of recovery did not have significant consequences in the teams’ results. Besides, playing at home and facing a lower-level opponent significantly increased the teams’ probability of winning. (ii) The percentage of games played during the season by teams with one, two, or three days of rest was very different. The percentage of games played without a day of rest had a minimum and maximum value of 17.3% and 22.2%, respectively. It seems then that the competition schedule may place some teams over others, which are then at a disadvantage. Competition organisers should take this aspect into consideration so that the competition can be fair to all teams. (iii) The game indicators most closely related to success in games were 3-point throws attempted and 3-point throws missed and, to a lesser extent, offensive rebounds, points after a second chance, and throwing errors.
To summarise, in elite basketball, having one day of rest between two games could be enough so that the teams’ probability of winning is not reduced. Competition organisers should take this factor into consideration when designing the competition schedule. Besides, the percentage of games played by teams in different recovery conditions should be similar so as not to disrupt the development of the league. Good physical training and designing individual recovery protocols for players might be some of the actions that teams should implement to reduce the impact of an overloaded competition schedule.
Carlos Lago Peñas
1 Esteves, P., Mikolajec, K., Schelling, X., Sampaio, J (2020). Basketaball performance is affected by the schedule congestion; NBA back-to-backs under the microscope. European Journal of Sport Science, 14;1-10. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2020.1736179. Online ahead of print.
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