Hawks face grueling start

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The Atlanta Hawks will kick off the season with a physically-demanding stretch of nine games in 12 days.

The Hawks, looking to make the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season, announced Tuesday night that they will open their shortened-season on the road Dec. 27 against the New Jersey Nets. Their home opener will be the following night against the Washington Wizards.

The Hawks finish the season with five games at home, including a finale with the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

The NBA announced the compacted, 66-game schedule, one that will require every team to play on three consecutive nights at least once. And it will force every team to navigate demanding stretches that are never seen during a full season.

The league’s 66th season begins with five games on Christmas, including the Los Angeles Lakers playing host to Chicago. The Lakers then visit Sacramento on Dec. 26 before returning home to face Utah on Dec. 27.

Teams will play 48 conference games and 18 against the opposing conference, meaning they play only three nonconference opponents home and away. The league did preserve its most storied rivalry, with the Lakers traveling to Boston for a Feb. 9 matchup before the Celtics open a stretch of eight road games in 13 nights in March with games on back-to-back nights at Staples Center.

Dallas and Miami also will play twice, following their Christmas NBA Finals rematch with a March 12 game in Miami. The Heat and Lakers also play two games.

The 50-game 1999 season featured 64 sets of back-to-back-to-backs and was plagued by sloppy basketball being played on fatigued legs. The NBA faces a similar predicament now after failing to reach a new labor deal in time to save the Nov. 1 start to the season. An agreement was reached on Nov. 26.

“You’re not going to have those breaks of three or four days that you sometimes got in the old 82-game schedule, when it was the normal regular schedule,” former NBA coach and current analyst Mike Fratello said during the schedule announcement on NBA TV. “Now with everything being compacted, games come that much more quickly, you’ve got to gear up back up again, you move onto the next one immediately.”


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