2020-21 Lakers Schedule Breakdown: Part 2
For the first time in NBA history, we got the schedule in two chunks … which means a second breakdown!
Here’s what you need to know about the second group of games for L.A., set to take place March 12 – May 16, 2021:
After getting what is clearly a very-much needed break, the defending champions open their second half with six of 11 March games against teams that are currently under .500, plus one apiece against the 15-14 Pacers and 17-15 Warriors. That leaves three games against some of the NBA’s best teams: Phoenix (20-10); Philly (21-11); and Milwaukee (19-13).
Furthermore, eight of the games are at home, and the three road games are all out West (@GSW, @PHX, @NOP), which leaves a very light travel burden – one that will catch up to them in April. With that said, the Lakers have been far better on the road (13-3) than at home (9-7). The biggest reason: they miss the crowd. Staples Center boasts a uniquely exciting vibe when the Purple and Gold fans are there, and they’ve had trouble matching the natural energy that road teams still feel coming into Los Angeles to face the defending champions. Longtime vet Jared Dudley acknowledged as much on a pregame Zoom call before L.A. lost to the Wizards on Feb. 22. Yet and still, they’ll have to find a way to turn that equation on its head as the playoffs approach.
BRING ON THE EAST
The trick with this season’s COVID-19-pandemic-influenced schedule is that there are more games against the opposite conference. In a typical year, the Lakers would play 10 of the 14 Western teams four times, and the other four teams three times. Those 52 total games go with 30 games against the opposing conference to reach 82.
But this season, the 10 fewer overall games are all pulled from the Western Conference for LAL, and they still play a home-and-away series with each Eastern team. And since the Lakers happened to play 20 games against the West (they went 15-5) already, plus five more before the break, all against Western squads, that left just 12 in the first half against the East. As such, it’s a lot of East in the second half.
A lot = 18 of the 31 remaining games, or 58.1%, 10 of which are at home. And then, five of the road games come on one trip, a 7-gamer that’s really a 5-gamer since the first one is at SAC (April 2) and 2nd against the Clippers (April 4) before this Eastern push: @TOR, @MIA, @BKN, @NYK, @CHA.
And what does it mean? Quite simply, the West remains the better conference, so more games against the East is less challenging, at least on paper.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Using ESPN's strength of schedule metric, the Lakers had the third easiest first set of games in the NBA, meaning things should flip around in the second half. Part of that is due to their already having played OKC, HOU and MIN, the three teams in 13th, 14th and 15th place in the West, twice apiece. But because there isn't much difference between the 11th and 6th seeds in respective conferences, and not really any home court advantage, the SOS metric is less meaningful this season.
To be more specific…
- With seven more back-to-back sets of games in the second half, the Lakers will end up with 12 total, matching their 2020-21 output. That was just below the league average of 12.7 last year, and down from 13.3 in the year prior as the NBA continues to try to minimize B2B’s (LAL had 18 in 2015-16). Furthermore, four of the seven sets come in the final 15 days of the season: vs. TOR/vs. DEN; @LAC/@POR; vs. NYK/vs. HOU; and @IND/@NOP, on the final two days of the regular season. How Frank Vogel manages fatigue and injuries during those games will be interesting as the Lakers look to ready themselves for the postseason.
- April features only four home games to 11 road games, as the Lakers will journey across the entire country, from Florida to New York, Texas to Washington with North Carolina and Northern California mixed in.
- May will be mostly spent at home, with five home games plus a “road” game against the Clippers, and only three true road games, @POR, @IND and @NOP.
- The Lakers had four B2B sets of games against one opponent in the first half, and they managed to sweep them all, going 8-0 against the Spurs, Grizzlies and Rockets on the road, and OKC at home. They have two such sets in the second half, both in late April, as they face Utah twice at home on the 17th and 19th, and then Dallas twice on the road on the 22nd and 24th.
- Here’s the day-by-day game breakdown: Sunday – 6; Monday – 5; Tuesday – 6; Wednesday – 4; Thursday – 6; Friday – 5; Saturday – 5. Like in the first half, it’s pretty balanced, which reflects the national TV mandated days like TNT Tuesdays and Thursdays, ESPN Wednesday’s and Friday’s, and ABC Saturdays and Sundays.
THREE INTRIGUING TILTS
March 21 at Phoenix: L.A.’s first game against the rising Suns, who’d won nine of 10 games at the time of the schedule release, is on March 2 just before the break, and the rematch will come six games into the second half. Since Anthony Davis was ruled out for approximately four weeks in the middle of February, there’s a chance AD could be back by that game (he’ll surely miss the game on the 2nd). If the Chris Paul/Devin Booker backcourt maintains its current level of effectiveness, this could be a fun matchup.
April 10 at Brooklyn: The Lakers get another chance at the team that should be favored to win the Eastern Conference, and hopefully, both teams will be fully healthy after AD and Dennis Schroder missed the February meeting for LAL, and Kevin Durant was out for the Nets.
May 6 at LAC: The Clippers fell short of outside projections that the two L.A. teams would meet in last season’s Conference Finals when they blew a 3-1 lead to Denver in the WCSF, but will be right there in terms of regular season standings when they face the Lakers in the final month this season. Seeding may not have its traditional importance this season depending upon whether fans will be allowed in different arenas and the resulting home court advantage, or lack thereof … but we’ll see!
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