Breaking down the Hornets’ 2009-10 schedule

Tuesday, August 4, 2009
By: Jim Eichenhofer,

The NBA released its official 2009-10 regular season schedule today. Here are a few thoughts on what I like and don’t like about the schedule from a Hornets perspective. You may also check out the “Twenty Hornets Games to Watch” and listen to my discussion with Hornets TV play-by-play broadcaster Bob Licht on the schedule:

Nine national TV games

This represents a bit of a drop from the team-record 13 national TV appearances that were scheduled for the Hornets in 2008-09, but it’s still a fairly significant number. The Hornets are slated to be televised six times by ESPN, with three more on TNT. Among the total of nine national broadcasts, two apiece are against Southwest Division rivals Dallas and San Antonio, with two others vs. Phoenix. Oddly, only two of the nine national broadcasts are home games at the New Orleans Arena.

A NOLA-friendly finish
If playoff positioning becomes a factor during the closing stretch of the regular season, the schedule appears to be about as favorable as possible to the Hornets. New Orleans plays eight of its final 11 regular season games at the Hive. Based on traditional travel plans, from March 21 through April 13 – a 24-day stretch – the team will spend only two full days outside of Louisiana. In addition, five of the final seven opponents overall were non-playoff teams last season.

A difficult start

What’s the most challenging aspect of the beginning of New Orleans’ schedule? Playing seven of the first 11 games on the road? Or playing three of the first seven overall games in hostile arenas against each of the last three NBA champions (San Antonio 2007, Boston 2008, L.A. Lakers 2009)? No matter how you look at it, the Hornets will have their work cut out for them immediately.

Waiting on the stars
Based on the presence of superstars LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the two biggest road draws in the NBA this season will likely be the Cavaliers and Lakers. Hornets fans will have to be more patient than most to actually see them play, because neither of those two opponents will make an appearance in New Orleans until March 24, when Cleveland visits. That will be the Hornets’ 73rd game of the regular season and 35th home game.

No Mardi Gras trip this time

Hornets players traditionally are on a road trip and therefore miss the end of the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, because hosting a game in downtown NOLA during that timeframe is a logistical impossibility. As a result, the NBA always schedules a multi-game West Coast road trip for the Hornets at the conclusion of Mardi Gras season. However, that’s not the case this time, because Mardi Gras day in 2010 takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 16, during the Hornets’ six-day break from game action for NBA All-Star festivities. Essentially, that means players will have the option of either vacationing somewhere else during the All-Star break, or staying in town for Mardi Gras.

Only one Lakers visit to NOLA
Based on the NBA’s rotating schedule-distribution policy, during each season there are a quartet of Western Conference teams that the Hornets play just three times, instead of four. In 2009-10, the four opponents that New Orleans will face only thrice are the L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City, Portland and Sacramento. As a result, the Lakers and Thunder will visit New Orleans once apiece, while the Hornets will make only one trip each to Portland and Sacramento. The three-game, Kings-Hornets season series will be wrapped up by Dec. 8.

Home games tip at 7 p.m., with four exceptions
Once again this season, home games at the New Orleans Arena will start at 7 p.m., but there are four exceptions based on the TV schedule or the date of specific games. The following home games at the Arena do NOT start at 7 p.m.:
• Wednesday, Nov. 4 vs. Dallas, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN broadcast)
• Monday, Jan. 18 vs. San Antonio, 2:30 p.m. (Martin Luther King Day)
• Sunday, Feb. 21 vs. Houston, 6 p.m. (Sunday)
• Sunday, April 11 vs. Minnesota, 6 p.m. (Sunday)