December schedule won't help Mavs climb out of the basement
At 3-14 through Wednesday, the Dallas Mavericks have the league’s worst record, in part due to injuries. Dirk Nowitzki has played just five of the team’s games, while Deron Williams, J.J. Barea and Devin Harris have all missed at least five games as well.
But the Mavericks have also been done no favors by their schedule. They’ve played the league’s toughest schedule to date, with 10 of their 17 games having been against teams that currently hold winning records and 12 of the 17 against teams that rank in the top 10 in either offensive or defensive efficiency. The Mavs played 10 of their first 15 games on the road, and their last game of November was at home against the team — San Antonio — that’s now 11-0 on the road.
Things aren’t going to get much easier in December. The Mavs do have their first extended homestand of the season, a four-game, seven-day stay that begins Saturday. But they still have one of the league’s toughest December schedules, with more road games (9) than home games (8) and five back-to-backs.
Dallas concludes 2016 with six of seven games on the road and what is, essentially, the toughest game on any team’s schedule. Their visit to Golden State on Dec. 30 will be their fourth game in five nights (a stretch that starts in New Orleans and ends in Oakland), and the Warriors will have had the prior day off.
That one game against a team that’s 16-2 distorts the cumulative winning percentage of the Mavs’ December opponents (0.530) a little bit. They may be able to climb out of the bottom five in offensive efficiency with eight games (tied for most in the league) against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 defensively. But the Mavs will have to wait until January to see some real schedule relief, and at that point, it may be too late.
Here’s a breakdown of the December schedules for all 15 teams in the Western Conference…
Some more Western Conference notes from the December schedule…
James Harden and the Houston Rockets’ fourth-ranked offense should have some fun this month. Houston is one of four teams with only three December games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.
Only five of the LA Clippers’ 17 December games are against teams currently over .500, but they’re playing eight games in the last 12 days of the month. The first five of those eight (including a four-games-in-five-nights sequence) are at the Staples Center, including their first meeting of the season with the Lakers on Christmas.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ have a five-games-in-seven days stretch that starts with a back-to-back at home and in Sacramento and then to Brooklyn two nights later. The Sacramento game begins the league’s longest December road trip: seven games in 12 days.
The New Orleans Pelicans have eight games in 12 days (with three back-to-backs) from Dec. 10-21, a stretch that includes games on both coasts.
The Golden State Warriors play six games in nine days from Dec. 5-13, a stretch that takes them from Oakland to New Orleans and includes two back-to-backs (L.A.-Utah and Memphis-Minneapolis) where the second game has an earlier start time than the first.
The Portland Trail Blazers have the West’s toughest December schedule when you take opponent strength, rest days and location into account.
The Sacramento Kings have the West’s most road-heavy schedule, playing 10 of their 15 December games on the road, where they’re currently 3-6.
The Utah Jazz have the most home-heavy December schedule in the league, with 11 of their 15 games at Vivint Smart Home Arena. They also have five games with a rest advantage, where their opponent played the night before but they didn’t. That includes their first two games of the month (vs. Miami and Denver) and three straight games (vs. Golden State, Sacramento and Oklahoma City) from Dec. 8-14.
The Indiana Pacers have been almost as good a team without Paul George (3-4, with wins over the Thunder and Clippers) than they’ve been with him (6-6, with losses to the Nets and Sixers).
But the Pacers have not been almost as good a team on the road as they’ve been at home. In fact, no team has a bigger discrepancy between their home record and their road record (8-4) and their road record (1-6) as the Pacers, who also have the league’s third biggest home-road NetRtg differential. They’ve outscored their opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, but have been outscored by 13.9 on the road.
If that trend continues, the Pacers are in store for a rough December, because no team has a more road-heavy schedule this month. After playing eight of their previous nine games at home, the Pacers’ current trip got started with a loss in Portland on Wednesday and continues with four more games out West. They also have a three-game trip in a couple of weeks, a visit to New York before Christmas, and a two-game trip right after Christmas.
The Pacers don’t play the most games in December, but their pre-Christmas schedule is pretty jam-packed, with 11 games in 17 days (including four back-to-backs) from Dec. 4-20.
More Eastern Conference notes for the upcoming month…
The Atlanta Hawks have the league’s No. 1 defense going into December and should keep it throughout the month. They have a league-low two games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. Those are both in Toronto. What’s crazy is that the Hawks also have only two games against teams that rank in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency. Their other 10 games are against the 10 teams that rank 11-20.
The Brooklyn Nets have the most rest-friendly December schedule in the league. They have just one back-to-back (though that’s against the Warriors and Cavs) and don’t play a single opponent that played the night before. As noted in the October-November schedule breakdown, Brooklyn has a league-low seven games vs. teams on the second night of a back-to-back this season. And in total, when you account for opponent strength, home/road, and rest, the Nets have the East’s toughest December schedule.
The Charlotte Hornets could rise in the defensive rankings with a league-high eight December games against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 offensively. That includes two games against the 30th-ranked Magic. In total, the Hornets have the conference’s easiest December schedule.
The Chicago Bulls begin the month with five games in seven days (including a four-in-five) and end it with five games in seven days. They do have the most December home games (11) in the East.
The Cleveland Cavaliers will play their first game of the season in a Western Conference arena on Dec. 14 in Memphis as part of a back-to-back home-and-home with the Grizzlies. But they won’t play in the Mountain or Pacific time zone until Jan. 8. The Cavs do play a league-high nine December games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively.
December is an important month for the playoff aspirations of both the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. Milwaukee plays 13 of its 16 games within the Eastern Conference, while Washington plays 12 of its 15 games within the East. And the two teams will play each other three times in December, including a pre-post-Christmas home-and-home series: Dec. 23 in Milwaukee and Dec. 26 in Washington.
The Orlando Magic are playing three back-to-backs (and nine total games) in the first 14 days of December.
John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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