NBA's West Has Built-In Advantage Over East

Clearly, back-to-back games are part of NBA life. Many observers believe that it's an undesirable, rather silly part of the game, giving unfair competitive advantage to one team over another for no reason other than the calendar. But it's a reality, so let's deal with it.

The question here is: do some teams have a built-in ADVANTAGE over other teams from the way the NBA is structured? Answer: yes, absolutely. Western teams have the advantage over Eastern teams. By which is meant: All other things being equal, a Western team has the advantage over an Eastern team in the NBA, by the singular virtue of being in the West.

Here's why:
Looking at the extremes of East coast vs. West coast (so differences are maximized), the facts on the ground include: (a) the time zone on the East coast is 3 hours ahead of the West coast, and (b) most NBA games are played at night.

In regular, non-back-to-back games, players on an East team traveling West are forced to play every regular game at approximately 7:00pm to 9:30pm, which is 10:00pm to 12:30am according to the PLAYERS' INTERNAL BODY CLOCKS. That internal clock is what determines how each player feels relative to the time of day. (Obviously: nobody acclimates overnight.) So we can see that EVEN IN REGULAR GAMES, the traveling East team is at a significant disadvantage compared to the experience of a West team traveling East. Why? A West team going East is going to start their game at approximately 4pm on the players' internal body clock (7pm minus 3 hours). That's a 4pm to 6:30pm game for the traveling West team, vs. 10:00pm to 12:30am for the East team. Not very fair, is it?

But it gets much worse.

Let's see what happens in your typical out-of-town back-to-back sequence. The West team arrives at the destination airport for their 2nd (back-to-back) game at approximately 4am local time, which is *1am* for their body clocks. They go to their hotel, and are checked in and in their rooms ready to sleep by about 2:00am-2:30am, body time. They can wake up 7-8 hours later with a solid night's sleep under their belts, ready to play.

The East team traveling West arrives at the destination airport for their 2nd (back-to-back) game at approximately 4am local time, WHICH IS 7am FOR THEIR BODY CLOCKS! They go to their hotel, and are checked in and READY TO SLEEP AT 8:00am - 8:30am, BODY CLOCK TIME. That's approximately when they'd normally be waking up.

And they're expected to do this with ZERO time for acclimation (to the new time zone).

Most players on the East team are going to get very little, and most probably NO SLEEP AT ALL. Then, a few hours after arriving, they must go and play an NBA game.  (This is why the Cs tried to get the NBA to change the part of the schedule they're experiencing right now... so they could avoid exactly this nasty problem.) Note: there is solid evidence that sleep deprivation directly impairs sports performance (intuitively obvious).

And all this is piled ON TOP of the regular amount of fatigue that any team must deal with when facing any back-to-back.

How crazy is this? Completely. No Eastern team should ever expect to actually win such 2nd-of-back-to-back, opposite-coast games. It's almost impossible, by virtue of math and biology. This is not a question of "professionalism" or "sucking it up." It's just plain stupid planning on the part of the NBA. Faced with this level of implacable imbecility, an Eastern team should just throw in the towel, imo. Tilting at windmills is not a successful strategy. I would advise giving ZERO playing time to ALL starters in these cases. Just give the game to the bench, and wave goodbye on your way out the door.

The point of this is: Western teams don't have this kind of problem, certainly not to the extent Eastern teams do. This is a built-in GEOGRAPHICAL advantage that the NBA's structure bestows on teams physically located in the West. Fair? Hardly. Fact? Absolutely. Despite this, which team has the most championships in the NBA? That would be the Celtics, residing firmly, and happily, on the East coast.

More power to them.


Update: The question of 'what can/should be done' about this issue has come up. Fact is, the NBA could fix this inequality easily: just stop scheduling back-to-back games during East-to-West road trips. Ideally, don't schedule them on ANY road trips, reserving them for home stands only. If that's not possible, at least the league must NEVER allow it to happen as the first 2 games of an East-to-West road trip. That's just impossibly brutal, and no team should ever be made to suffer through it. Bottom line: it's just a scheduling thing, easily fixed.

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