Are NBA Teams Playing Back-to-Back Nights at a Disadvantage?

Playing on back-to-back nights has gained a stigma. Should there be one?

In an age where metrics and player tracking is on the rise, the NBA has tried to fix their schedule to cut down on player fatigue and teams resting their stars by limiting the number of games played on back-to-back nights. An ESPN story this past summer revealed injuries could be caused by increased fatigue, and can be controlled by decreasing the amount of stress put on a player's body by the rigorous schedule they face.

The NBA has responded again by saying next season will start approximately 10 days earlier than usual to reduce scheduling inefficiencies, like teams playing back-to-backs or even four games in five nights. Similarly, I will try my best to cut down on the number of times the term 'back-to-back' is used going forward so Drake's diss track does not get stuck in your head.

For this exercise, we will explore how teams have performed in the 156 back-to-backs through this point in the season, and if there are any variables to help predict future instances for gambling or fantasy purposes when a team is playing their second game in as many nights.

Performance Based on Winning Percentage

In order to view teams based on winning percentage, teams were split into groups of "Teams above .500" and "Teams at or below .500".

Group Winning Percentage Winning Percentage in Back-to-Backs Difference
+.500 Team .656 .603 -.053
-.500 Team .358 .244 .114

Above .500 teams do not have as much trouble with back-to-backs as those below .500, but the difference can still be seen.

While they still win 60 percent of games on the second night of a back-to-back, they lose 5 percent more in these games than one coming after a night of rest.

Teams below .500 are worse off, losing 11 percent more in these instances. This is another example of good teams finding a way to overcome, but the difference is noticeable that even the NBA's better teams cannot help but get tripped up a bit here.

Performance Based Home-Road Split

Next, we will examine where the game takes place. Is there anything to the idea that home cooking heals all wounds?

Location Record (Win%) Not in Back-to-Back Record (Win%) in Back-to-Back Difference Win %
Home 182-149 (.550) 31-20 (.608) +.058
Road 136-141 (.491) 33-72 (.314) -.177

Teams at home on the second half of a back-to-back actually win at a higher percentage than those playing at home with at least one day of rest. On the other hand, teams traveling to a road destination and playing the next night are nearly 18 percent more likely to lose under these circumstances.

Are teams having trouble with traveling and checking into hotels in the early morning hours or are they doing a little too much champagning and campaigning (credit to Jalen Rose)? Unfortunately, I am not privy to the reason why this is happening, but teams traveling and playing on the road the next night are struggling to win.

Performance when Cross-Tabbing Win Percentage, Home-Road and Opponent

While the first two breakdowns reveal interesting trends, it is easier to set your sights on who you can and cannot trust in a given matchup when taking both variables into consideration, while also adding their opponent.

Team-Location vs. +.500 Team Record (Win%) vs. -.500 Team Record (Win%)
+.500 Team at Home 8-6 (.571) 13-0 (1.000)
+.500 Team on Road 6-13 (.316) 17-10 (.630)
-.500 Team at Home 6-10 (.375) 4-4 (.500)
-.500 Team on Road 5-27 (.156) 5-22 (.185)

Given these stats, you can trust the good teams on a back-to-back against a bad team, especially at home. The 30-10 record in these situations, compared to 14-19 when facing good teams in the same circumstances shows back-to-backs can be overcome against inferior opponents.

You can also trust that a bad team on the road playing their second game in as many nights is going to struggle. Those teams are 10-49 in back-to-backs this year, regardless of opponent.

Should All Road Back-to-Backs be Treated the Same?

While the information thus far has proven that playing on the road in the second leg of a back-to-back is a bear, does it matter where the team plays the night before?

First Game-Second Game Record (Win%)
Road-Road 22-26 (.458)
Home-Road 11-45 (.196)

It appears that teams in the middle of a road trip perform much better than those hitting the road after a stint at home. The spread is so great that teams playing in a road-road situation are slightly more likely to win on the road than the league average, and teams leaving home to play the next night are 27 percent less likely to win.

Are There Teams That Break the Trend and Other Observations

When sorting through all the information, there are usually things that will run counter to the stats. For one, the San Antonio Spurs are 5-0 in road games in back-to-backs. Other teams that win more than 50 percent of the time in this situation include the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Utah Jazz.

The Philadelphia 76ers are the only team to lose both halves of a home-home split on consecutive nights. Other teams are 5-0 on the second half of home back-to-backs.

Teams better hope to avoid Golden State and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second half of a back-to-back. The Warriors are 6-0, averaging 125.4 points per game against such teams, while the Cavaliers, at full strength, are 5-0 and averaging 119.2 points per game.

Basically, all this information shows how difficult it is for NBA teams to play games on consecutive nights, and the league is doing the right thing by continuing to adjust the schedule for future seasons.