This is one of those seemingly simple questions that is actually a little bit complicated. The short answer is 82. Currently, all 30 teams play 82 regular-season games for a total of 1230 regular-season games per season.
But that number has changed a lot over the years. The first official NBA season (technically the BAA at that time) included only 331 total games. And you can see in the graph here below that the number NBA games in a season has dipped dramatically 4 times since 1998.
Dig deeper into the topic and you start uncovering some fascinating NBA stories you may have overlooked. So hang in with me a bit as we take a look at how and why the number of games in the NBA regular-season has shifted over the years.
How many games are scheduled for the 2023-24 NBA season?
As it stands, there are currently 30 teams in the NBA. Each team in the league is set to play 82 regular-season games. Across the entire season, multiplying 30 by 82 and dividing in half (because teams obviously play each other) that’s a total of 1,230 regular-season games. But there’s more to it than that.
This 82-game season has been in place since the 1967-1968 NBA season. Thus, the total number of games in the NBA regular season is largely determined by the number of teams in the league. As teams enter the league, more games are played.
We have had a number of situations over the years where the season was artificially shortened for various reasons. There’s call now for shortening the standard season moving forward, as a means of protecting player health. As I mentioned, some of the details here get very interesting.
NBA Seasons Shortened by Disaster
There have been a number of seasons over the years that have been shortened due to world events or internal issues with the league. Let’s take a look.
The Covid Years (2019-2021)
The most recent shortened NBA seasons came in 2019-20 and 2020-21 in relation to the Covid pandemic. As Covid-19 swept the planet, indoor gatherings became a major public safety concern. Restrictions on public gathering ended up disrupting two seasons of NBA hoops.
The 2020 NBA season was cut short in March, only a month before the playoffs. This left teams with between 19 and 15 games left to play in the season. After a 4-month hiatus, the league launched a plan to wrap things up.
In July, 22 NBA teams were assembled in Orlando in a controlled environment termed the NBA Bubble. Each team played 8 games to finalize playoff seeding, so a total of 88 additional regular-season games, capping off a season of 1059 total regular-season games.
The remaining teams then entered into a conventional playoff tournament including an additional 83 games, the Los Angeles Lakers emerging as victor.
With the 2020 finals pushed back into October, a traditional late-October restart was not in the cards. To accommodate the broken schedule, the 2021 season was cut to 72 games and play resumed in December 2020, just 72 days after the finals, making for the shortest off-season in NBA history, following the longest season in NBA history (377 days).
With each of 30 NBA teams playing 72 games, 1080 total regular-season games were played in the 2020-21 season. The 10 top-seeded teams from each conference then heading into the playoff tournament, with seeds 7-10 on each side first competing in the NBA’s inaugural play-in tournament.
This play-in tournament, formulated partly in response to a Covid-shortened season, has remained a fixture in the NBA post season. The play-in offers an added incentive to press for higher seeding in the regular season, in addition to the excitement of a do-or-die nail biter for teams sitting on the fringes of playoff entry.
The Boston Bombing (2013)
You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find another instance of a reduced NBA regular season. On April, 16th 2013, a game at TD Garden between the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers was cancelled in the wake of bombings during the Boston Marathon in the days before.
The missed game was not rescheduled, as it occurred late in the season and did not meaningfully affect playoff seeding. This resulted in 1029 games played in the 2012-13 regular-season.
NBA Seasons Shortened by Lockout
The NBA players union periodically negotiates collective bargaining agreements (CBA’s) with the league in order to clarify the rights and responsibilities on behalf of players. The most recent CBA was negotiated successfully in 2023.
When a contract expires and negotiations fail, players have little option but to withhold services. This is referred to as a ‘lockout’. The NBA season can’t start without players, so we drift into a standoff. Players stop playing, losing money and playing time, and the league and owners lose revenue and fan attention. This continues until a resolution is found.
There have been 4 lockouts in NBA history. The first emerged when a previous CBA expired in 1995. Another popped up in 1996 surrounding a lucrative broadcasting detail. Both were resolved without missed games. Only the 2011 and 1999 lockouts had any effect on regular-season play.
The 2011 NBA Lockout
On July 1, 2011, the NBA entered into a work stoppage triggered by the expiration of the 2005 CBA.
The lockout in 2011 pushed the start of the season into December and shortened the 2011-12 season to 66 games for a total of only 990 regular-season games played in the 2011-12 season.
The 1998-99 NBA Lockout
The 1999 lockout was largely triggered by the owners. Players were looking for more money, bumps to the league minimum salaries and expansion of salary caps. Owners were pushing back.
But this is not exactly the classic ‘capitalist-scum vs. the working man’ plot line. Following the league’s first lockout in 1995, the CBA was set on a 6 year renewal plan. But the agreement included a clause that allowed owners to re-open negotiation after 3 years if player salaries exceeded 51.7% of basketball-related income. And they did just that.
So owners voted to re-negotiate, and those negotiations took a turn. The result was this, the 3rd lockout in NBA history, on July 1, 1998. This was the first NBA lockout to affect regular-season play, ending the NBA’s record at the time as the only major American sport to have avoided missed games due to contract negotiation.
The 1999 lockout shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games. It also forced cancellation of the 1999 All-Star Game.
NBA Expansion and the length of the NBA season
Outside of labor disputes and world-shattering tragedies, the length of the NBA season has been largely dictated by the number of teams in the league.
Look back to the graph and you’ll see that each step upwards since 1967 corresponds to the addition of one or multiple NBA expansion teams. With the most recent jump in 2004 we got the Charlotte Bobcats.
Load Management and the length of the NBA Season
There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the long term viability of an 82 game season.
Competition and base athleticism has evolved so intensely in the past decade, that pro basketball players are coming up against the harder limits of human performance.
It depends on who you ask, but most experts will agree that this makes for some incredible basketball. Issues only arise when you look closer at the effects on players.
So the season currently stands at 82 games. With a fresh CBA, that’s unlikely to change any time soon.
However, what is likely to change is the total number of games in an NBA season. There’s been a lot of talk of league expansion lately. Commissioner Adam Silver has hinted a a desire to have a firm CBA in place before adding new teams. We’ve go that CBA, so new teams are on the horizon.
Likely locations are floating around. I’d suggest that the most probable location for a new team is Las Vegas. Vegas has been courting major market sports aggresively in recent years. LeBron has hinted at a desire to back a Vegas franchise, and there’s speculation that he’s begun courting Saudi money to do so.
Seattle is another strong contender. The Seattle Supersonics were narrowly allowed to drift to Oklahoma City. The city has seemingly lamented that decision ever since.
Some of the more exciting possibilities involve international teams. Mexico City has remained a constant possibility. The NBA would love to expand outside of North America. CDMX is significantly higher in altitude than even Denver, which could make for a real tough travel game.
However the game breaks, the most likely reason that we see our next bump in total games is expansion. I’m all for it, personally, but I can see downsides.