Ira Winderman: NBA can't tackle football, so Heat wind up in a waiting game

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Perhaps we now have our answer, one that comes for reasons beyond a 2019-20 NBA season dramatically delayed due to a pandemic.

The NBA, based on the signals offered during these playoffs, might as well permanently time shift its future schedules to start on Christmas Day or later.

First came the Sept. 10 game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets, a game that featured the NBA’s biggest star and best scorer.

And, even then, the league opted to start at 7 p.m. Eastern (4 p.m. Los Angeles time), despite the matchup of LeBron James vs. James Harden.

That one tipped off with exceptional TNT play-by-play man Brian Anderson noting, “The only game on the NBA playoff bubble schedule, and it’s a dandy.”

But not dandy enough to tip during a featured 9 p.m. time slot, or even a traditional 8 p.m. TNT slot.

That also was when the NFL kicked off its regular season with Kansas City Chiefs-Houston Texans, or more precisely, Patrick Mahomes vs. Deshaun Watson.

Then, this past Thursday, the NBA again time shifted, moving Heat-Celtics Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals up from the scheduled 8:30 p.m. start to a 7 p.m. tip, to try to get a jump on Joe Burrow-Baker Mayfield in Cincinnati Bengals-Cleveland Browns Thursday Night Football.

And, now, the NBA also will duck Monday Night Football, with a three-day break in Heat-Celtics between Saturday’s Game 3 and Wednesday’s Game 4.

So when it doubt … duck.

There was a time when the NBA appeared poised to challenge King Football. In recent years, it no longer was the exception to counter-schedule against Monday Night Football, or even against some Sunday NFL games. If you scheduled, they would come. At least that seemed to be the belief/hope.

It no longer is that time (perhaps with the exception of LeBron James, who will be in action against Sunday Night Football with his Los Angeles Lakers against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals).

And that’s fine, also.

Because sometimes you have to appreciate your place, your niche, your competition.

But if this playoff sample, during these most unusual times, is a road map, then the delayed start to NBA 2020-21 could come with a sense of permanence.

There will, of course, be issues with such an approach, including Olympic years, as well as the NBA’s desire to prop up the summertime World Cup of the sport. It also would leave a lengthy break from the end of college basketball season until NBA summer/fall league, although a gap no longer than the end of the college football season to the NFL draft.

There also is the question of whether vacation season will hurt attendance, with that not an issue with this summer’s restart being played in the void of fans.

And yet, if the NBA does move aside from football, then perhaps it also can take a page from football and reduce the regular-season inventory. You still can start Dec. 25 and end before the dead of summer with fewer regular-season games.

Then, no Olympic conflicts. Then, summer league still in the summer.

In addition, fewer games would mean fewer conflicts during those prime weeks of the NFL playoffs, when Saturdays and Sundays in January stand as the peak of the football schedule.

If ever there was a time for the NBA to reconsider 82 games as a necessity, it is at a time when the entire revenue model is being reconsidered.

What the NBA has accomplished in finding a way to finish to this season is remarkable.

Just as noteworthy is how it has accepted stepping aside for football.

Common sense says there is a long-term solution to those concerns, as well.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

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