The Wizards finished off the Hawks in Game 6 on Friday, April 28. The Celtics-Bulls series also ended in six games on Friday. When news broke that Washington and Boston would begin their second-round series on Sunday, some fans were scratching their heads.
Why – when the Cavaliers and Raptors finished their first-rounds on April 23 and 27, respectively – were the less rested teams starting sooner? That gives LeBron James and company a full eight days to recover.
Conspiracy theorists will say the NBA wants James to rest as much as possible to increase the odds of a Finals rematch with the Warriors.
But in reality, scheduling is much more complex and much less salacious than all that. First understand that there are a set of parameters that influence the process from the beginning.
– Slotting games into programming grids is difficult, especially on networks with lots of other live content like ABC and ESPN, so it's prudent to plan for the second round before the first round even begins.
– To simplify that process, schedulers try to keep teams on a Thursday-Saturday or Wednesday-Friday rhythmn (as allowable) and plan for each series to go seven games.
– The NBA and its broadcast partners try to take advantage of Sunday viewership by starting series on Sundays.
Given those considerations, it's not difficult to see how Wizards-Celtics ended up on Sunday and Cavaliers-Raptors on Monday. Here's how it worked.
Cleveland and Toronto were Thursday-Saturday teams, while Washington and Boston were Wednesday-Friday.
If Cavs-Pacers had gone seven games, Game 7 would have been on Saturday, April 29. That meant the earliest schedulers planned to start the second round for either team would be Monday.
Meanwhile, the Wizards and Celtics were already slotted to play Game 7s on Sunday if that had been necessary.
So when both teams won in six, it allowed the NBA to start the second-round series on a Sunday without having to change the broadcast schedule. They also had the same amount of rest going into the second round, so neither were disadvantaged by the Sunday start.
In summation, Washington is playing Sunday because the NBA plans playoff games far in advance and wants to avoid disrupting the broadcast schedule.
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