NBA Needs an Altitude Adjustment

Today’s NBA schedule highlights a problem that has existed for many years.  It’s one that puts one team at a signficant disadvantage to their opponent before the game has even begun.  And while it’s too late to do anything about it this season, the issue can be eliminated, or at least significantly reduced, in the seasons to come.

The game in question?  LAL @ Utah.  The problem?  The Lakers are playing a game at high altitude the night after playing a game at sea level (or “C” level, if you didn’t like their loss last night).

There’s this thing called “oxygen” that is vital to a body’s performance.  At high altitudes, the air is thinner and there’s less oxygen per breath than there is at lower altitudes.  And when people who don’t live at high altitudes suddenly go from a lower altitude to a higher altitude, it takes their bodies time to adjust to getting less oxygen every time they breathe.

Playing against Denver or Utah in the first game of a back-to-back is much less of a problem.  Teams will fly in the day before the game and arrive at a reasonable hour (late afternoon or early-to-mid evening).  This gives their bodies more time to adjust.  Maybe they’re not adjusting to the same level that the Nuggets or Jazz players have adjusted to but they’re at least adjusting to a level where reduced oxygen won’t have a major impact on the game.

But a team playing in the second game of a back-to-back (or, in the Lakers’ case tonight, the third game of a back-to-back-to-back) is going to fly out after finishing the first game and probably won’t arrive until well after midnight.  So they have much less time to adjust to the thinner air and their bodies aren’t at full strength when they take the court.

Add that to being tired from the game the night before; getting less sleep because of the much later travel; and having less time to prepare for the upcoming game (issues that all teams face for the second game of back-to-backs) and you can see how this little thing called oxygen can turn what should be a win or a close loss for the visiting team into a route for the home team.

The NBA has a great scheduler and he needs to add a couple more rules to his algorithm:

1.  If the away team for the 2nd game of a back-to-back played game 1 at high altitude, they can play game 2 at high altitude as well.

2.  If the away team for the 2nd game of a back-to-back played game 1 at low altitude (anywhere but Denver or Utah), they can’t play game 2 at high altitude.

Obviously there may be times when these rules must be violated but doing so should be the exception.  And unless Denver or Utah plays at sea level for an extended road trip, these rules don’t need to apply to them.  Their players will adjust to the lower oxygen much more quickly because they live in it for so much of the year.

It’s a little ironic that teams that play in arenas named for “energy” companies (The Pepsi Center and EnergySolutions Arena) have been benefiting somewhat from their opponents’ lack of energy.  Maybe they can negotiate oxygen level requirements in the next CBA.  Until then, changing the schedule will provide the “altitude adjustment” that will give their opponents more of a fighting chance.

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