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Less travel is causing the NBA to see better basketball

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?

Making sense of the $28 billion Salesforce-Slack deal

As with most big deals in tech, the key question to ask about Salesforce's $28 billion purchase of Slack isn't whether the price is too high or low, but whether the combination makes sense.

Between the lines: Big Tech companies have plenty of their own cash and can easily borrow more, but only a finite amount of time to innovate before rivals capture their turf.

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Putin says Russia will begin large-scale COVID-19 vaccination next week

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he has directed officials to begin large-scale vaccination against COVID-19 as early as next week, according to state media.

Why it matters: Russia, which has the fourth-largest coronavirus caseload in the world with more than 2.3 million infections, would be the first country to begin mass vaccination. Experts have criticized the lack of scientific transparency around the vaccine and the haste with which the Kremlin approved it.

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Israeli parliament opts for early elections in preliminary vote

After six months of a dysfunctional power-sharing government, Israel is headed for its fourth elections in less than two years, most likely at the end of March.

Driving the news: The Knesset voted 61-54 today to approve the preliminary reading of a bill to dissolve the parliament and call new elections. Benny Gantz's Blue and White party supported the bill while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and the rest of the coalition voted against.

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The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight

Packed stadiums and a more normal fan experience could return by late 2021, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said yesterday.

Why it matters: If Fauci's prediction comes true, it could save countless programs from going extinct next year.

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Trump likely to announce 2024 bid, but GOP rivals say power will fade post-White House

President Trump is likely to announce he'll run again in 2024, perhaps before this term even ends, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has already set in motion two important strategies to stay relevant and freeze out other Republican rivals. 

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Nursing homes are still getting pummeled by the pandemic

Data: AHCA/NCAL, The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The U.S. has gotten no better at keeping the coronavirus out of nursing homes.

Why it matters: The number of nursing home cases has consistently tracked closely with the number of cases in the broader community — and that's very bad news as overall cases continue to skyrocket.

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Biden faces a showdown over digital services taxes between the U.S. and EU

A fight over foreign countries' efforts to tax big American tech companies' digital services is likely to come to a head in January just as Joe Biden takes office.

The big picture: Governments have failed to reach a broad multilateral agreement on how to structure such taxes. That could leave the American firms that dominate consumer digital services — including Google, Facebook and Apple — stuck with massive tax bills from different countries.

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Biden economic team will write crisis playbook for a new era

Joe Biden's economic team faces a daunting task helping the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs or otherwise been financially ravaged by the coronavirus. But most of them have first-hand crisis experience, dating back to when Barack Obama inherited a crumbling economy when he took office in 2009.

Why it matters: Most of President-elect Biden's economic nominees served in the Obama Administration, and wish that they could have gone biggerto help America recover from the 2008 financial crisis. But it's not going to be easy for them to push through massive fiscal spending in 2021.

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