With the lockout about to enter its fourth month, we’ve entered a crucial stage in negotiations. According to most estimates, the sides would need a handshake deal by the first week of October if there’s any chance for a full season.

And while the pace of negotiations has increased from its previous state of “non-existence” through most of July and August, there isn’t nearly the sense of urgency there was when the NFL was in a similar position. When the first week of the NFL pre-season was in jeopardy, ESPN was on “Code Red” status, flooding SportsCenter with every detail of its labor negotiations.

Part of the difference in coverage is because football is America’s most popular sport, but it’s also because the NFL season is so short that every game is precious. In contrast, the entire NBA season stretches from November all the way to June.

Traditionally, the league’s broadcast (not cable) TV partners don’t even begin showing games until Christmas, with over a quarter of the regular season is in the books. The casual sports fan, watching the NFL, college football and MLB, won’t even notice the NBA’s absence until the start of the New Year.

It’s a different story in the NFL, where teams have their back against the wall after one game. From 1990-2009, only 22 of the 160 NFL teams that started the season 0-2 made the playoffs. The margin for error is a lot smaller in a 16-game regular season, adding an inordinate amount of tension to every game.

Last week, the Dallas Cowboys, already 0-1, were down 10 points to the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter. Desperate to avoid an 0-2 start, they brought star QB Tony Romo back into the game with a broken rib and a punctured lung. The gamble worked, and Romo was able to pull out an OT victory.

Such a situation would be inconceivable in the NBA’s 6-month 82-game grind. Many veterans are eager to rest their bodies, knowing that no one stretch of games is crucial. In 2003, Shaquille O'Neal infamously refused to have surgery in the off-season, delaying his eventual return to the court under the rationale that “if he got injured on company time, he should recuperate on company time.”

Several times over the last few years, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn’t play his team’s biggest stars -- Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker -- in regular season games. Not because they were injured, just so they could get a rest.

When NFL teams do that after they have clinched their playoff seeding, it’s typically a minor controversy. But if an NFL coach did that in the middle of a season, there would be an insurrection among fantasy football players.

The accumulation of statistics is one of the main ways that both baseball and football keep its fans tuned in over the entire season. Until the steroid era, the most hallowed mark in professional sports was Roger Maris’ 61-homer season. Even in the age of Moneyball, certain statistical benchmarks are incredibly important to how baseball and football players are perceived: the 20-win pitcher, the 100 RBI batter, the 1,000 yard RB, the 1,000 yard WR.

NBA fans, in contrast, place little weight on statistical achievement, which devalues the regular season. Great basketball players are judged almost solely on their ability to win championships. Regular season success is completely marginalized: for many, Dirk Nowitzki’s 2007 MVP became illegitimate when his Mavericks were defeated in the first round. And after his disappointing showing in the 2011 Finals, there’s literally nothing LeBron can do to repair his reputation until the games “start to count” in May and June.

It would certainly be possible to have a shorter season; college basketball teams typically play around 40 games in a season, while European teams play far less than 82 games a year. Eliminating back-to-back games, long the bane of an NBA schedule, would do wonders for the quality of the product. However, because shortening the season would require both the owners and the players to sacrifice short-term revenue for possible long-term gains, it is completely off the table.

So while a compressed season similar to 1999 would undoubtedly harm the on-floor product, because neither the fans nor the players really care all that much about the regular season anyway, it’s not much of an incentive to accelerate labor negotiations.