Instant 2011-12 Schedule Analysis

The Miami HEAT’s 2011-12 schedule is out and, as is true for every team this season, it’s one of the more unique slates you’ll ever come across in years of following NBA basketball. At 66 games, it’s stuck smack dab in the middle of a typical 82-game season and the 50-contests of 1999, but with every team accounted for, this schedule feels much closer to a full season.

NBA schedules can be defined by back-to-backs first, road trips second and strength of schedule a distant third. There’s nothing particularly complicated about it, as it’s easy to predict that from one season to the next, it’s always going to be tougher to play the night after a game and it’s always going to be difficult bouncing from one 3 AM flight to the next on longer road trips. It’s impossible to ensure that even opponents that seem to be sure-things as marquee matchups will be so once that game arrives, because it’s impossible to ensure that all players will be healthy.

The HEAT played 18 back-to-backs in 2010-11, and they’ve made out with the same total this season, sort of. They still play 18 back-to-backs – no travel required on seven of them – but about a week before the late-February All-Star break Miami will go from Atlanta to Milwaukee to Indiana over the course of three nights. Considering that some teams will play two back-to-back-to-backs, the HEAT made out pretty well here.

The road trips aren’t bad, either. As they do every January when the Circus comes to the AmericanAirlines Arena, the team has a five-game trip, which includes two days off as they travel from New Jersey from Golden State. Then there’s the six-game trip, which includes the three games in three nights stretch – in February, that’s focused primarily on the East Coast and the Midwest. After that there’s just one four-gamer and a pair of three-game trips, totaling five trips of three or more games to seven homestands of the same length.

Since every team in the league will be dealing with similar scheduling, nothing here is season breaking. But every team in the league will also be asking itself the same question: “When, exactly, will there be a suitable time for us to practice our trade?”

Good luck with that.

The HEAT don’t get more than two consecutive days off until they’ve already played 11 games, and once they’ve completed that five-game trip in mid-January, they’ll embark on an incredible stretch of 18 games in 28 days. NBA coaches are already constantly deciding whether to use off days for practice or rest, and with only eight stretches of two-consecutive days off or more – including the All-Star break – those decisions will never be more difficult for Erik Spoelstra.

As for opponents, here’s a distribution list of Miami's opponents, including whether they’ll be at home or on the road for the Western Conference teams that they’ll only meet once.

Here are a few highlights pulled from the schedule:

Sunday, December 25
Miami at Dallas – Good morning. Good night. Signed, Captain McObvious Words. While we’re at it, the same goes for the home opener against Boston two nights later.

Wednesday, January 11
Miami at Los Angeles Clippers – Blake Griffin won’t be coming to the AmericanAirlines Arena this season, so this will likely be your only chance to see him on the same court as LeBron James.

Friday, January 27
Miami vs. New York – The HEAT met the Carmelo Anthony-Amar’e Stoudemire pairing right after the February trade for Anthony, and though the game was close, the offensive fireworks left a little to be desired given the quality of athletes on the court. Will each team shoot below 45 percent the next time they meet?

Sunday, January 29
Miami vs. Chicago – Chris Bosh’s 1-for-18 against the Bulls last season was one of many narrative turning points for him, but probably the one that mattered most when it came to his one-court performance. For much of the early season, Bosh was getting comfortable playing out of the high-post as the offense’s safety valve in case it needed a quick jumper. But after missing a number of free-throw line jumpers against Chicago, Bosh decided to play more of an in-between game rather than pick-and-popping to 15-feet on most possessions. This paid huge dividends in the Eastern Conference Finals as Bosh excelled at diving to the rim and making tough catches, and a month into the 2011-12 season, the first Chicago will provide an opportunity to gauge just how far Bosh has come since November 2010.

Sunday, March 4
Miami at Los Angeles Lakers – The end of a fun three-game trip after the All-Star break, the HEAT will have a day off to prepare for a Sunday afternoon matchup against the Lakers that doesn’t need any more analysis because you’re already so excited about this game your eyeballs have turned into basketballs dribbling up and down. I’m assuming that you are Bugs Bunny.

Wednesday, March 14
Miami at Chicago – The HEAT return to the scene of the crime, where they came back from a 12-point deficit to steal Game 5 from the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals, possibly the best illustration of the talent Miami has on hand all season, apart from a certain full-court alley-oop. Few arenas have gasped quite like the United Center after Dwyane Wade converted a four-point play with 90 seconds to play.

Sunday, March 25
Miami at Oklahoma City – The HEAT’s two games against the Thunder were possibly the most rewatchable of all their regular season games last season, both because they occurred when Miami’s offense was really coming into its own and because watching James and Kevin Durant is one of the league’s greatest offerings. Some of James’ best post offense and most consistent perimeter defense came in those two games.