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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In addition to keeping out the coronavirus, the NBA bubble has also delivered a stellar on-court product, with crisp, entertaining play night in and night out.

Why it matters: General managers, athletic trainers and league officials believe the lack of travel is a driving force behind the high quality of play — an observation that could lead to scheduling changes for next season and beyond.

  • "This is the advantage that we have not had," one team health official told ESPN's Baxter Holmes. "We're always tired, [but in the bubble] our guys have been rested ... We've been able to get them recovered again and again."
  • Another health official said the quality of play has some rethinking the concept of load management. Before, they thought heavy minutes were the leading cause of fatigue. Now? "It might actually just be the travel."

The intrigue: On a call last month with commissioner Adam Silver and all 30 GMs, the concept of teams traveling to cities to play two games in a short span next season was discussed, according to Holmes.

  • These baseball-like homestands could lead to better play, while reducing travel amid the pandemic and leveling the playing field for coastal teams who typically travel more than their peers.

The big picture: The NBA has made efforts to reduce travel in recent years by creating more rest days and eliminating four-in-five stretches, but its teams still travel more than other major North American sports teams.

By the numbers: During the 2018-19 season, NBA teams traveled an average of 43,534 miles, nearly 7% more than NHL teams (40,768), 36% more than MLB teams (31,993) and 441% more than NFL teams (8,049).

  • As a result, sleep deprivation is "our biggest issue without a solution," one high-ranking league source told ESPN last October. "It's the dirty little secret that everybody knows about."

The bottom line: The pandemic has hurt sports leagues financially, but it also exposed inefficiencies and forced changes that could stick around. If the NBA can make something like homestands work, who wouldn't want better-rested players?

Go deeper

Dec 21, 2020 - Podcasts

Milwaukee Bucks owner: NBA teams will lose money this season

The NBA tips off tomorrow night, making it the first major U.S. sports league to play a second season amidst the pandemic. No bubble this time, but also not many in-person fans.

Axios Re:Cap talks with Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry on the business of basketball, how much he expects to lose this season and that massive new deal for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sydney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.