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League eases schedule for weary stars

NEW YORK

The NBA announced its full 1,230-game schedule for the upcoming season, complete with tweaks designed to reduce wear-and-tear on players through the grinding 26-week campaign.

The 2017-18 season will be the first season in NBA history in which no team plays four games in five days. The number of back-to-back games has been reduced to 14.4 per team — down from 16.3 last year.

The issue of keeping teams fresh during a regular-season lasting more than six months gained urgency as coaches opted to rest stars like LeBron James and Stephen Curry occasionally to be sure they’d be ready for deep playoff runs.

The absence of marquee players was felt not only by fans who paid for tickets but also by national broadcasters. ABC and ESPN recently paid $24 billion for the right to air some of the league’s marquee games.

To make it possible, the league shortened the pre-season, and added about a week to the regular season.

The season that tips off on October 17 with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors taking on the Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers, bested by the Warriors in last season’s finals, taking on the Boston Celtics in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The NBA had already revealed its five Christmas Day contests, which include a Warriors-Cavaliers rematch. The two teams, who have clashed in the last three championship series, will meet again on Martin Luther King Jr Day — January 15.

Three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans last season, makes his first return to Sacramento in week two.

There could be fireworks on November 15, when Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers visit the Los Angeles Lakers and rookie Lonzo Ball — the second overall pick in June’s draft.

Ball’s father LaVar Ball and Embiid traded barbs on social media during the off-season.

Paul George, traded by the Indiana Pacers to Oklahoma City, returns with the Thunder and NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook to take on the Pacers on December 13.

Chris Paul will be back in Los Angeles to take on his old team the Clippers as a Houston Rocket on January 15.

Jimmy Butler, dealt by the Bulls to the Minnesota Timberwolves in June, returns to Chicago with his new team on February 9.

Gordon Hayward, who signed with the Celtics on March 28, returns to take on his old team the Utah Jazz on March 28.

In international games already announced, the Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets will play in Mexico City on December 9 and the 76ers and Celtics will meet in London on January 11.

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