As can immaturity in general.
"You'd think that older players would have a tougher time rebounding from a game the night before," says Van Gundy. "But I'd take older veteran guys, by and large. They know how to better prepare themselves."
Statistically, there are four possibilities when a team plays back-to-back: Win-win, loss-loss, win-loss, or loss-win. Purely in a statistical sense, then, a team should lose both games 25 percent of the time and win both games 25 percent of the time. In actuality, teams have lost-lost 33 percent of the 406 back-to-backs through Feb. 29 and won-won just 20 percent.
"Coach (Byron) Scott doesn't let us make excuses," says Hornets veteran Morris Peterson. "This is a man's league. Getting ready to play back-to-back games is more mental than anything."
It's often a matter of ignoring the "Let's split" personality. On Feb. 19, the Knicks won their first overtime game of the season at playoff-bound Washington. The following evening in Philadelphia, against a Sixers team with a worse record than the Wizards, New York got blown out by 40.
It works just as often in reverse. On Jan. 13, Portland lost a tough road game at Toronto by seven. The following evening at New Jersey the Trail Blazers nuked the Nets, 99-73.
That split mindset may be what separates the Orlando Magic (40-23) from the Cleveland Cavaliers (35-27). Both are playoff-bound Eastern conference squads that lean heavily on a precocious All-Star. The Magic, though, have won both ends of back-to-back games seven times out of 15 this season. Overall, they are 21-9 (.700) in back-to-back games.
The Cavs, however, have swept consecutive nights just once in 15 tries. On Wednesday, they beat the Knicks by 14 in New York, then lost in Chicago on Thursday night by 11. Cleveland is 13-17 (.433) in the same number of back-to-back contests.
Stats don't lie
The Celtics added two veteran All-Stars — Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett — to their roster this season. Not only do the Celtics have the league's best overall record, but they also have the best record in back-to-back games (22-4). Garnett's former team, Minnesota, is one of the NBA's youngest — and, granted, least talented — teams. The Timberwolves are 3-21 in back-to-back games, one of five franchises (the others being youth-laden Atlanta, Chicago, Memphis and Seattle) that has failed to win both ends of a back-to-back set this season.
General managers may not admit it in public, but circling back-to-back games is the first thing they do when the NBA schedule comes out. Nothing says "flat" quite like a team playing a home game following a road game the night before.
"When you're on the road for consecutive games, it's business as usual," says Van Gundy. "But when you fly home, players have to deal with their personal lives and then return to the arena that very day. There are more distractions."
It is difficult to deny that back-to-back games skew a team's record.
So, should the Indiana Pacers, who have played 34 back-to-back games this season, more than anyone else, have a beef with the NBA that the defending champion Spurs have played just 20? Why not just attempt to minimize back-to-back games as much as possible?
Van Gundy, whose unorthodox ideas make him such an entertaining listen during ESPN broadcasts (last week he suggested that if a team trails by 25 or more points, they could tie the score by hitting a shot from beyond midcourt), has another idea.
"At the end of the day, you either have mentally strong players who want to compete or you don't," he says. "So why not up the ante? I'd like to see teams play seven games in seven days. We could call it 'The Seven-Game Gauntlet'. That would separate the men from the boys and at the same time, eliminate the necessity of playing back-to-back games the rest of the season."
Makes sense to me.
PBT: Lance Stephenson led Indiana with 25 points in a win that eliminated his hometown team. Stephenson and the Pacers will face the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
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