WASHINGTON — The NBA features 30 teams and an 82-game regular season, and three television stations — ABC, ESPN and TNT — to split the nationally broadcast games.
Many additional games are shown nationally on NBATV, but as NBATV is not included with most basic cable packages, when somebody says a game is “nationally televised,” they are usually referring to the games on one of the three channels mentioned above. Not every team can have a significant number of games played on national television, as networks have to worry about ratings and their other programming.
The Wizards haven’t done much of significance on the court in many years, and even when they’ve made the playoffs, they’ve struggled to get past the second round. They also missed the postseason entirely last season.
That said, when the NBA released the 2016-17 schedules, it was perhaps not surprising the Wizards were awarded a grand total of five nationally televised games.
Washington is one of 12 teams to receive five or fewer nationally televised games, according to SB Nation, while eight teams received at least 22 such games. The Golden State Warriors, not surprisingly, have the most, with 28. Five other teams have at least 11 nationally broadcast games, meaning 13 teams have more than double the nationally televised games Washington does.
Of the 164 nationally televised games that will be played in the 2016-17 NBA season, just five are scheduled to include the Wizards.
The Wizards don’t play on national TV until Jan. 11, when they play the Boston Celtics in Boston on ESPN. That is their 38th game of the season, nearly halfway through the schedule. They quickly get their second appearance on the big stage, when they play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19 on TNT. Round 3 is on Feb. 10, at home against the Indiana Pacers on ESPN, then they take on the Atlanta Hawks on ESPN at home on March 22. They wrap up their national TV tour in Detroit on April 10, their penultimate game of the regular season, on TNT.
Then again, it could be much more insulting. Take the Charlotte Hornets, for example. The Hornets went 48-34, which put them in a four-way tie for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, but they came out last in the tiebreaker. They won seven more games than the Wizards, yet they were awarded just three games on national TV. The Orlando Magic won 35 games, just six fewer than Washington, but they made dramatically altered their roster by trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka, and they were awarded just a single nationally televised game.
The NBA reserves the right to swap some games on the schedule, and Washington could have one or more games flexed into a national spotlight. To do so, however, it (probably) would have to perform well enough to captivate audiences.
A bounce-back year is expected for the Wizards after a disappointing 41-41 season that saw them miss the playoffs, fire head coach Randy Wittman, replace much of the training staff and retool the bench. A season of 47 or more wins could lead to a stronger slate of nationally televised games next year, but little else will put them on the national stage.