The Western Conference hasn't been having its best season. Just a week ago, the West -- which had a winning record vs. the Eastern Conference in 19 of the last 20 seasons -- was 80-81 against the East. A week before to that, there were only six West teams with winning records.
But the Oklahoma City have won seven of its last eight games to go from 11-14 to 18-15. Three of those wins have come against the East and, as a whole, the West has won eight of its last nine games against the East to restore some order to the universe.
The Thunder certainly aren't guaranteed a playoff spot, but with a big win over the Dallas Mavericks on New Year's Eve, they're comfortably in seventh place. Behind them, however, remains a large group of teams no better than four games under .500.
Some of those teams have been disappointing. Some have been somewhat surprising and now find themselves in a playoff race because of how disappointing the others have been. At this point, you can't even count out the New Orleans Pelicans, who were 6-22 with a 13-game losing streak just 14 days ago. They remain in 14th place, but New Orleans has won five of its last six (with three straight wins over teams with winning records) and are just three games in the win column behind the eighth-place San Antonio Spurs.
Maybe one or more of those seven teams will put things together. Maybe one or two will fall off. Maybe there will be some trades that take some of these teams in a new direction (up or down).
The trade deadline is Feb. 6. Given there are so many teams clustered together in both conferences, the January schedule could go a long way in helping teams determine which direction in which they'd like to go.
The Spurs have the league's toughest January schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage. That puts that last playoff spot in the West very much up for grabs. Over the next month, there will be 14 games between the seven teams that sit between 8th and 14th place in the West. The surprising Memphis Grizzlies, who have won seven of their last 12 games are just a game in the win column behind the Spurs, will be involved in seven of those 14 games -- with four of the seven in the first 10 days of 2020.
The Thunder will play six of their 17 January games against that group. If they're going to remain in playoff position, they'll have to take care of business against the teams chasing them.
At the top of the West, the Los Angeles Lakers have come back to the pack a bit, losing four straight before beating the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks last weekend. The Lakers still have a three-game lead over the second-place Denver Nuggets, but with 60% of the season still to go, there are only five games separating L.A. and the sixth-place Utah Jazz.
January will give us 12 games played between the top six teams in the West. The Mavs, Nuggets and Houston Rockets will each be involved in five of those 12, and we'll get Clippers-Lakers, Part III on Jan. 28.
Here's a breakdown of every Western Conference team's January schedule (and if you're looking for the East, click here) ...
|G = Total games|
H/R = Home & road games (doesn't include neutral-site games)
RA/RDA = Rest-advantage & rest-disadvantage games
OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage entering Jan.
OppO = Average opponent ranking in offensive efficiency
OppD = Average opponent ranking in defensive efficiency
Rest advantage / Rest disadvantage: Games in which one team (at a disadvantage) played the day before and the other (at an advantage) did not. This season, teams are 64-49 (.566) with a rest advantage, 42-27 (.609) at home and 22-22 (.500) on the road.
More Western Conference notes:
- The Mavs begin 2020 with their longest homestand of the season: six games over 10 days. The last four games of the homestand will pit their top-ranked offense against four of the league's top-10 defenses. With no January games against an opponent playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Mavs are tied with the Rockets (also with three and zero) for the toughest rest-advantage differential of the month.
- The Nuggets enter January having played 19 of their 33 games at home, but they're just one game into their longest road trip of the season (five games over nine days). In total, 10 of their 16 January games are on the road. They're also one of two teams (Cleveland is the other) with four January back-to-backs, and they will have a rest disadvantage in the second game of all four.
- The Warriors are one of two teams (the Suns are the other) with no back-to-backs this month. But they play the league's third toughest January schedule in regard to opponent winning percentage.
- The Rockets will play 12 of their 14 January games within the Western Conference. That includes five games (all in the second half of the month) within the top six of the West, two against Denver and one each against the Lakers, Jazz and Mavs.
- The Clippers are tied with the Suns and Jazz for the most rest-advantage games (four) this month. Six of their first seven January games are at home and all six of those home games are against teams that enter the month with a losing record. In total, they have the West's easiest record in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage.
- The Lakers will get their next shot at the Clippers on Jan. 28. It's a home game for the Lakers, though it comes at the end of five-game road trips for both teams (thanks to the Grammy Awards at Staples Center). The Clippers will be coming from Florida (playing in Orlando on the 26th), while the Lakers will be coming from the Northeast (playing in Philadelphia on the 25th).
- The Grizzlies' longest homestand of the season is six games from Jan. 7-20. Five of those six opponents have losing records.
- The Timberwolves will be home for almost all of a three-week stretch beginning Jan. 13. But they had lost nine straight at the Target Center before beating Brooklyn in overtime on Monday. From Jan. 11-25, eight of their nine games are against teams that enter the month with winning records. They're 2-11 (with seven straight losses) against that group.
- The Pelicans have a league-high eight January games against teams that enter the month in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, including two games each against the Celtics and Jazz.
- The Thunder have three back-to-backs in January, but the second game of all three is against an opponent that's also playing the second game of a back-to-back. In total, they have a league-high five games against teams playing the second game of a back-to-back.
- The Suns will begin 2020 with the final game of a four-game road trip (against the Lakers). Then they'll have a five-game homestand in which the all five opponents are at least five games under .500 (entering the month), the easiest five-game stretch (taking location, opponent-strength and rest into account) for any team this month. And the three-game road trip that follows starts with games against the Hawks and Knicks. The Suns have no back-to-backs this month, and they'll have four rest-advantage games (including two on that homestand).
- The Blazers' begin January in New York and Washington, a soft start to a five-game trip. But they have a league-high 10 January games against teams that enter the month with a winning record, with two games each against Dallas and Houston. They do have a stretch of three straight rest-advantage games: Jan. 11 vs. Milwaukee, Jan. 13 vs. Charlotte and Jan. 15 at Houston.
- The Kings had the league's worst record over the last 10 years and enter the 20s with its longest active losing streak (eight games), even though five their last six have been at home. The home-heavy stretch (10 of 12 at Golden 1 Center) continues through Jan. 15 and their first four games are against other four of the other six teams out of playoff position in the West.
- The Spurs have the league's toughest January in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (0.569), mostly because they're playing seven games against the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. That includes all six of their games against the Bucks, Heat and Raptors.
- The Jazz are one of four teams (the others are no better than the 13-21 Grizzlies) that are winless (the Jazz are 0-2) in rest-advantage games. They'll have four more of them (including a big game against Houston on Jan. 27) this month, with only one rest-advantage game (in Denver on Jan. 30).
The Milwaukee Bucks lost on Christmas, but have taken care of business since then. As we enter 2020, the Bucks have seven more wins than any other team in the East. We can expect the Bucks to remain comfortably atop the conference because they have one of the league's easiest January schedules.
The group of five teams behind the Bucks remains a fascinating study. The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat have put themselves in the mix for a 2 seed. The Celtics rank in the top five on both ends of the floor, while the Heat have the best record (5-2) in games played between the top six in the East.
The Philadelphia 76ers have been somewhat disappointing. The Toronto Raptors have been resilient in the face of injuries. And the Indiana Pacers have been the East's biggest surprise, going 22-12 as they wait for Victor Oladipo.
There will be six games between teams 2-6 in the East this month. Either the Heat or Sixers will be involved in all six, though their next head-to-head meeting (with the Heat holding a 2-1 series lead) won't be until Feb. 3.
Further down the standings, there appears to be a four-team race for the final playoff spot in the East, with the Orlando Magic, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons all having won between 12-14 games through December.
There will be only four January games within that group of four teams, but the seventh-place, 16-16 Brooklyn Nets will play four games against the group themselves, an opportunity to strengthen their hold on a second straight playoff berth.
More Eastern Conference notes:
- The Hawks enter January ranking 28th in defensive efficiency, and they'll have the league's toughest January schedule in regard to opposing offenses. They play only one game (Jan. 12 at Brooklyn) against a team that enters the month in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.
- The Celtics have the league's only five-games-in-seven-days stretch of January, and it's their first five games of the month. It's two home-road back-to-backs with a game in Washington in between. Four of the five games (and seven of the Celtics' first eight January games) are against teams with losing records, but the most important game of the stretch is the final one: in Philadelphia on Jan. 9.
- The Nets have the league's most home-heavy January schedule with 10 of their 15 games at Barclays Center. But nine of their first 11 January games are against teams that enter the month with winning records. The Raptors, Thunder, Heat, Jazz, Bucks, Sixers and Lakers will all be in Brooklyn in the 20 days from Jan. 4-23.
- The Hornets have the league's fewest January games (12) and the most road-heavy January schedule, with only four of those 12 games at the Spectrum Center. The Paris game (Jan. 24) against the Bucks counts as a home game for Charlotte.
- The Bulls are the only team that has yet to play a game with a rest disadvantage. Their first one of the season will be Jan. 11 in Detroit (with a home game against Indiana the night before), and they'll have another Jan. 25 in Cleveland. The Bulls are one of two teams (Oklahoma City is the other) with 17 games in January, but they don't have any games outside of the Eastern or Central time zones this month.
- The Cavs are one of two teams (Denver is the other) with four January back-to-backs Two of them (including two straight nights at Staples Center) are on one of the two six-game trips they have this season (Jan. 9-18).
- The Pistons begin the month with the final four games of a six-game trip, facing both the Clippers and Lakers in the first five days of January. But they have a stretch from Jan. 7-29 where they're playing 11 of 12 games against teams that enter the month at or below .500. They have a league-high nine January games against teams that enter the month in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency. That includes three games against the Cavs and two against the Nets.
- The Pacers enter January ranking seventh in defensive efficiency, and they'll have the league's easiest January schedule in regard to opposing offenses. Indiana has seven games against the bottom eight offenses and none against any team that ranks higher than eighth offensively as we enter the month.
- The Heat conclude this month with one of their two five-game homestands this season. It wraps with a big game against the Celtics on Jan. 28, though that is one of two rest-disadvantage games for the Heat on the homestand. Through December, they're 3-0 with a rest advantage and 1-3 with a rest disadvantage.
- The Bucks will be traveling to Paris for their game against the Hornets on Jan. 24, leaving them with the fewest true road games (five) this month. They also have the fewest January games (two) against teams currently over .500, and they'll be at home with a rest advantage for both of those: Jan. 16 vs. Boston and Jan. 31 vs. Denver. The Bucks are 6-0 with a rest advantage and 21-0 against teams currently at or below .500.
- The Knicks have a much better record against the West (4-6) than they do vs. the East (5-18), and they will begin 2020 with six straight games against the opposite conference. They host the Blazers on Wednesday before heading out for a four-game trip (with two games in L.A.) and returning home to play the Pelicans.
- The Magic have a league-high nine January games against teams that enter the month in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. That includes two games each against the Wizards (fourth), Clippers (seventh) and Heat (eighth). A six-game trip from Jan. 10-20 is their longest of the season and includes an Lakers/Clippers back-to-back.
- The Sixers enter 2020 with a three-game losing streak and are two games into a stretch of seven straight against teams that currently have winning records. It continues with games against Houston, Oklahoma City, Boston, Dallas and Indiana (again). The Sixers will have a rest advantage against Boston (at home) on Jan. 9 and in Dallas on Jan. 11. They have the league's fewest January games (four) against teams that enter the month with a losing record.
- The Raptors have the league's easiest January schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (0.406), but their 10 road games are tied (with Denver and Oklahoma City) for the most this month. Weirdly, the 10 road games are four two-game trips and two single-game excursions to Charlotte and Oklahoma City. And they don't play two straight home games all month.
- The Wizards enter January having played the most road-heavy schedule in the league, with only 13 of their 32 games at Capital One Arena. They'll play six of their first seven January games at home, but then play six of seven on the road. They have the most January games within the Eastern Conference (12).
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