Going into Thursday’s games, 16 of the league’s 30 teams had completed back-to-back-to-back stints. A total of 42 are scheduled this season, meaning some clubs will have two.
According to the N.B.A., of the teams that had already played back-to-back-to-backs, six went 1-2, seven went 2-1 and two elite teams — the and the Oklahoma City Thunder — went 3-0. With a 99-96 loss to the Nets on Wednesday, the Detroit Pistons became the first team to go 0-3. That adds up to an overall record of 26-22, a .542 winning percentage that would seem to belie the idea that playing three games in three nights puts teams at a disadvantage.
Even better, from the N.B.A.’s point of view, the record of clubs in the third game of their triathlons, when they might be expected to be too tired to go all out, is currently 9-7.
On Wednesday, Detroit played a Nets team that dressed only eight players, one of whom, Keith Bogans, had been signed earlier in the day. The Pistons could have done what the Sacramento Kings and the Charlotte Bobcats did — followed up two blowout losses by saving face in the last of three games in a row — but Detroit trailed by 11 points at halftime and could not make it up.
“I think it’s just the way you start the game,” Brandon Knight, a rookie guard for the Pistons, said of playing back-to-back-to-back. “If you start flat, you’ll probably play flat.”
As the success of the Bulls and the Thunder indicates, teams are playing somewhat to form during their back-to-back-to-back stretches.
Ten of the 16 teams that have played such series have overall records above .500, but no team with a sub-.500 record has won two out of three games in a back-to-back-to-back, which does not bode well for the Knicks (8-13).
The good teams have shown impressive resilience on the third night of back-to-back-to-backs. The only teams over .500 to lose on the third night have been teams going for three wins in a row: the Portland Trail Blazers, the Orlando Magic and the Philadelphia 76ers, who lost a close game to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden at a point when the Knicks still had a record over .500.
Some of those third-game victories have been particularly impressive. The Los Angeles Clippers eked out a win over the defending champion Dallas Mavericks, and the Houston Rockets soundly beat the surprising Atlanta Hawks.
Meanwhile, the Hawks beat the Bulls in the third game of Atlanta’s back-to-back-to-backs. And the competitive but patchwork Nuggets were able to fend off the Milwaukee Bucks in the third game of Denver’s stint one night after digging deep to beat the Los Angeles Lakers.