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Schedule Analysis: Breaking down the final 2 months for every team

Memphis and Milwaukee have two of the toughest remaining regular season schedules

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

The Memphis Grizzlies have been the biggest surprise of the season. With a rotation that includes five guys in their first, second or third seasons, the Grizz were not supposed to compete for a playoff spot. And through the first seven weeks of the season, the Grizzlies were 6-16 and in 13th place in the West.

But they’ve seen marked improvement since then. And as we come out of the All-Star break, the Grizzlies are in eighth place in the West at 28-26, five games in the loss column ahead of the ninth-place Portland Trail Blazers and 10th-place San Antonio Spurs, veteran teams with active playoff streaks of six and 22 seasons, respectively.

Some early playoff experience for Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson would be huge. But the Grizzlies aren’t in the postseason yet. And though they have a big cushion for that final playoff spot in the West, they have the league’s toughest schedule going forward, both in regard to opponent strength (cumulative opponent winning percentage of .554) and amount of road games (16 of their final 28 games are on the road).

The Grizzlies will have 16 games against the other 13 teams that have winning records. That includes two games each against the Lakers, Raptors, Rockets, Mavs and Thunder. Of the Grizzlies’ 12 games that aren’t against teams with winning records, five are against the three teams – Portland (2), San Antonio (1) and New Orleans (2) – chasing them for that final Western Conference playoff spot.

To make things more interesting, the Pelicans have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, with only nine of their final 27 games against teams currently over .500. The Blazers, meanwhile, have the second easiest and the most home-heavy remaining schedule in the West.

Both ESPN and FiveThirtyEight show the Grizzlies as having a less-than-25% chance of making the playoffs, which is pretty wild for a team that has a five-game lead in the loss column with less than 30 games to go. But it speaks to both the Grizzlies’ relatively weak point differential (-1.4 per game) and how difficult their remaining schedule is. If they keep that playoff spot, they certainly will have earned it.

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Important note: The following schedule analysis is done with the league having yet to reschedule the Clippers-Lakers game that was postponed after the death of Kobe Bryant. We assume the game will be rescheduled for Friday, April 10, an available date for both teams that wouldn’t create a back-to-back-to-back situation for either. But that’s just an assumption, with the league likely to announce the make-up date soon.

With that assumption, here’s a breakdown of every Western Conference team’s remaining schedule …

Western Conference

Western Conference, strength of remaining schedule
Team G H/R RA/RDA OppO OppD OppPCT
Memphis 28 12/16 4/4 12/7 12/8 0.554
Golden State 27 15/12 5/5 11/6 11/9 0.538
Minnesota 29 14/15 1/5 14/6 10/9 0.524
Phoenix 27 12/15 4/4 10/7 9/8 0.522
Denver 27 13/14 3/2 11/8 8/8 0.517
Oklahoma City 27 12/15 1/4 13/9 11/8 0.512
Utah 28 16/12 3/4 12/6 8/11 0.502
Dallas 27 12/15 3/4 10/8 7/6 0.495
L.A. Lakers 29 16/13 5/5 8/10 10/8 0.493
San Antonio 28 15/13 4/3 9/11 8/7 0.488
LA Clippers 27 14/13 4/2 7/10 8/7 0.488
Sacramento 28 15/13 3/4 9/8 9/12 0.487
Houston 28 14/14 2/2 9/10 8/11 0.477
Portland 26 15/11 3/3 7/9 8/8 0.467
New Orleans 27 13/14 2/2 9/11 6/12 0.449
G = Total games H/R = Home & road games

RA/RDA = Rest-advantage & rest-disadvantage games

OppO = Games vs. top-10 & bottom-10 offenses (as of All-Star break)

OppD = Games vs. top-10 & bottom-10 defenses (as of All-Star break)

OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage (as of All-Star break)

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 103-89 (.536) with a rest advantage, 70-55 (.560) at home and 33-34 (.493) on the road.

More Western Conference notes:

  • The Mavs are the only team in the league that has a better point differential per 100 possessions on the road (plus-6.7, second best in the league) than at home (plus-4.9, 11th). So it’s not necessarily a bad thing that they have a road-heavy remaining schedule (15 of 27 on the road), with six of their first seven post-break games away from American Airlines Center. They’re also playing seven of their first eight (and 12 of their first 17) against teams with losing records. Things get tougher down the stretch when they play seven of their final 10 games against teams currently over .500. They have the third worst record (10-15) in games played within that group.
  • The Nuggets blew an opportunity to make things interesting at the top of the Western Conference when they lost in overtime to the Lakers in their last game before the break. Now, they’re in a fight with the Clippers and Jazz for second place, and they have the toughest remaining schedule of the three, with 15 of their 27 games against teams with winning records. That includes two meetings each with the Clips and Jazz, with the Nuggets’ last game of the season in Utah. Denver does have the second best record (15-9) in games played between the 14 teams that come out of the break over .500, and they’re 1-0 against Clippers and 2-0 against Utah thus far.
  • The Warriors will play nine of their first 11 post-break games at home. And if Stephen Curry does come back in early March, they could have him for a four-game homestand that includes visits from the Raptors, Sixers and Clippers and is part of a stretch where they’re playing seven straight games against top-10 defenses.
  • The Rockets have won 12 of their last 13 games against the Eastern Conference and have the most East-heavy remaining schedule among Western Conference teams, playing 13 of their final 28 games against the opposite conference. They have just five more opportunities to test their small-ball lineup against the other six teams in the West’s top seven, having already completed their season series with the Nuggets (tied 2-2) and Thunder (they lost, 2-1). The first of those five opportunities is Saturday in Utah, a rematch of what was a fascinating and thrilling game (capped by Bojan Bogdanovic’s game-winner) just 10 days ago. The Rockets will play their final eight games of the regular season in the state of Texas, with three two-game homestands separated by trips to Dallas and San Antonio.
  • As the Clippers try to get their core playing in a rhythm before the playoffs begin, back-to-backs must be noted. If we assume an April 10 date for the rescheduled game against the Lakers, they have four back-to-backs left on their schedule. But the first of those four (a home-home back-to-back against the Nets and Pelicans) isn’t until March 13 and 14. The Clippers’ toughest remaining stretch is Feb. 28 – March 8, five games against teams no worse than the 33-22 Thunder, starting with an important game (at home) against the second-place Nuggets and capped by their remaining “home” game against the Lakers.
  • The Lakers will play 17 of their 29 remaining games (including a “road” game against the Clippers) at Staples Center. That starts with a fun, three-game homestand featuring visits from Ja Morant and the Grizzlies (Friday), the Celtics (Sunday), and Zion Williamson and the Pelicans (Tuesday). In addition to two more games against the Clippers (one still to be rescheduled), the Lakers will get visits from the Sixers, Bucks, Rockets, Nuggets, Jazz, Pacers and Thunder. Their post-break schedule is tougher at the start (10 of their first 14 games against teams with winning records) and easier at the end (11 of their last 15 against teams with losing records), though that easier stretch begins with the Lakers’ longest road trip of the season (six games, mostly through the East, from March 21-30). They do have the league’s best road record (23-5) and are six games away from a perfect season (they’re currently 17-0) in non-L.A., Western-Conference arenas.
  • The Timberwolves‘ new duo of D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns will be tested defensively over the final eight weeks of the season. The Wolves have a league-high 14 games remaining against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. That includes five games against the top two offenses in the league, those of the Mavs (three games) and the Lakers (two). The Wolves also have the league’s biggest remaining discrepancy between rest-advantage games (one, tied for the fewest) and rest-disadvantage games (five).
  • As noted above, the Pelicans, sitting six games behind the Grizzlies in the loss column, have the league’s easiest remaining schedule. They have the third best record (13-8, including 3-1 with Zion Williamson) in games played between the 16 teams currently under .500, and they play 18 of their remaining 27 games (including nine of their last 10) within the group. Two of the other nine are against the eighth-place Grizzlies, who they’ve already beat twice in the last month. The Pels begin their post-break schedule against the ninth-place Blazers (against whom they’re 3-0) and have three games remaining (one of which is the last game of the season) against the 10th-place Spurs (who won the first meeting last month).
  • The Thunder have just one rest-advantage game remaining (March 17 in Memphis), tied for the fewest in the league. They play 15 of their final 27 games on the road, with their final game of the season (in Dallas) determining the head-to-head tie-breaker between the Thunder and the team with which they’re currently tied for sixth place in the West. The Thunder also have three games remaining against the Nuggets and two each against the Clippers and Jazz.
  • The Suns might still have a shot at the playoffs. They’re just two games back in the loss column of the Blazers and Spurs. But Phoenix has the toughest remaining schedule of teams 9-13 in the West, with 15 of their final 27 games against teams with winning records. And that doesn’t include any games against the eighth-place Grizzlies, to whom they’ve already lost the season series. The Suns have both a six-game homestand (Feb. 26 – March 8) and a six-game road trip (March 23 – April 1) left on their schedule.
  • Like the Suns, the Kings are only two games in the loss column behind the ninth-place Blazers and 10th-place Spurs. The Kings have an easier remaining schedule than Phoenix and a better opportunity to help themselves, with seven games against teams 8-11 in the West, one against Portland and two each against Memphis (two of their first five games coming out of the break), San Antonio and New Orleans.
  • As they try to make the playoffs for a 23rd straight season, the Spurs have the most West-heavy remaining schedule, playing 20 of their final 28 games within the conference. But only four of those 28 are against the three teams they’re fighting for that final playoff spot, and three of those (including the last game of the season) are against the 11th-place Pelicans. They’re done playing the ninth-place Blazers (having lost the season series, 2-1) and have just one game remaining against the eighth-place Grizzlies (trailing the season series, 2-1).
  • The Jazz have the second best home record (20-5) in the Western Conference and are tied for the most home games remaining (16). They begin their post-break schedule with their longest homestand of the season (five games over eight days), though they’ll be at a rest disadvantage when they host the Rockets (two games behind the Jazz for fourth in the West) on Saturday. The Jazz lead the league in offensive efficiency (118.6 points scored per 100 possessions) between Christmas and the All-Star break, but their defense has taken a small step backward (ranking 12th over that stretch) and they have one of the league’s toughest remaining schedules in regard to opposing offenses, with 12 games against the top 10 (including three meetings with the 10th-ranked Spurs and two each with the Lakers, Celtics and Nuggets) and only six against the bottom 10.

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NBA-Best Bucks Have Tests On The Horizon

If there’s an Eastern Conference team that can keep the 46-8 Milwaukee Bucks from reaching The Finals, we’ll get some clues in the final eight weeks of the season, because the Bucks have more games against teams 2-6 in the East after the break (10) than they had before it (nine).

That includes three more games against the second-place Toronto Raptors, two more against the third-place Boston Celtics, two more against the fourth-place Miami Heat, and two more against the fifth-place Philadelphia 76ers. The Bucks are currently 3-3 against that group, having lost to Boston (1-1), Miami (0-1) and Philly (1-1).

The Bucks will be at a rest disadvantage for two of those 10 remaining games against the group: Feb. 25 in Toronto and March 2 in Miami, with games in Washington and Charlotte the nights before those marquee matchups. They won’t have a rest advantage for any of the 10.

The most fun stretch of Milwaukee’s remaining schedule should be the first seven days of April. They’ll host the champs on April 1, and then head out on a three-game trip through Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia.

In total, the Bucks are tied with the Grizzlies for the most games remaining (16) vs. teams with winning records. That includes road games against the Lakers (March 6) and the two Western Conference teams with wins in Milwaukee: Denver (March 9) and Dallas (March 29).

Most of the games noted above will be against good offenses. The Bucks rank No. 1 defensively overall, having allowed 3.4 fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team (a remarkable differential) and 8.0 fewer than the league average, the third best differential in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data. But they rank just eighth defensively (109.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) in games against the top 13* offenses, and have played the fewest games (17) against that group.

* Typically, we’ll measure defenses vs. the top 10 offenses, but going into the break, there wasn’t much of a gap between the Heat’s ninth-ranked offense (111.7 points scored per 100 possessions) and the Wizards at 13 (111.3).

Over the last eight weeks, the Bucks will play 14 of their 28 games against offenses that currently rank 13th or better. When they lose, they usually give up a lot of 3-pointers, so games against the Mavs (first in 3-pointers per game), Rockets (second) and Raptors (fifth) will be particularly interesting in that regard.

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Eastern Conference

Eastern Conference, strength of remaining schedule
Team G H/R RA/RDA OppO OppD OppPCT
Detroit 25 11/14 4/3 11/8 11/6 0.546
Washington 29 15/14 4/6 9/10 12/9 0.531
Milwaukee 28 13/15 4/4 8/6 11/9 0.526
Chicago 27 14/13 6/3 12/9 12/6 0.525
Charlotte 28 16/12 4/1 9/10 11/10 0.516
Toronto 27 13/14 3/3 10/9 10/9 0.514
Boston 28 13/15 4/5 8/10 10/7 0.514
Cleveland 28 12/16 4/5 10/10 10/8 0.503
Indiana 27 12/15 3/3 11/10 10/10 0.499
Brooklyn 29 13/16 2/3 10/11 11/10 0.499
New York 27 14/13 5/4 7/9 7/8 0.493
Miami 28 16/12 4/2 6/13 8/12 0.466
Atlanta 26 15/11 5/3 4/10 7/13 0.465
Orlando 27 13/14 2/2 6/13 7/9 0.464
Philadelphia 27 14/13 2/3 6/12 7/13 0.455
G = Total games H/R = Home & road games

RA/RDA = Rest-advantage & rest-disadvantage games

OppO = Games vs. top-10 & bottom-10 offenses (as of All-Star break)

OppD = Games vs. top-10 & bottom-10 defenses (as of All-Star break)

OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage (as of All-Star break)

More Eastern Conference notes:

  • The Hawks have the most home-heavy remaining schedule in the East, with 15 of their 26 games (including six of their first seven) at State Farm Arena. Lottery combinations could be up for grabs as they play four of their final six games against Charlotte (x 2), Detroit and Cleveland.
  • The Celtics will play seven of their first nine post-break games against the Western Conference, a stretch that includes a game Sunday in L.A. against the Lakers. After that, things will get interesting in the East. Though they’re done playing the Sixers, seven of the Celtics’ final 19 games are within the top six teams in the conference, with two meetings each against the Bucks, Heat and Pacers.
  • The Nets are tied (with Cleveland and Memphis) for the most road games remaining (16). They play six of their first seven post-break games on the road, a stretch that includes visits to Philadelphia, Miami and Boston, where home teams are a collective 70-10. The Nets have just one road win over a team that’s currently over .500 (Feb. 10 in Indiana) and they also have road games remaining against the Lakers, Clippers, Pacers, Thunder and Bucks. The Nets should feel fairly safe in regard to making the playoffs, but holding on to seventh place could be difficult (see the note regarding the eighth-place Magic’s schedule below).
  • The Hornets have 16 remaining home games, tied for most in the league. Four of the five best teams in the West – Denver, Houston, the Lakers and Clippers – will make their only trips to Charlotte in March. The Hornets also have just one rest-disadvantage game remaining, with every other team having at least two.
  • The Bulls have a brief chance to put themselves back in the East playoff race. They open the post-break schedule with a four-game homestand and play eight of their first 11 games against teams with losing records, a stretch that concludes with one of their two remaining meetings with the eighth-place Magic. They have a league-high six rest-advantage games remaining, with three of those in the next two weeks. But even if they take advantage of that early stretch, making the playoffs will be difficult. Overall, the Bulls will play 11 of their final 16 games against the 14 teams that currently have winning records. They have a late, five-game road trip that includes games against the Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers and Clippers. And the Bulls’ record against those 14 teams with winning records thus far? 3-21.
  • The Cavs are reportedly parting ways with head coach John Beilein, leaving interim coach JB Bickerstaff to deal with the East’s most road-heavy remaining schedule. After a five-game homestand from Feb. 29 – March 8, the Cavs will play 13 of their final 18 games away from Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Weirdly, only three of those 13 road games are against teams with winning records. The Cavs’ toughest stretch in regard to opponent strength is the home-heavy part over the next few weeks.
  • The Pistons have the fewest games remaining of any team in the league (25), but have the East’s toughest schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.546). They’ll play 14 of their 25 games against teams that went into the break with winning records. They have just 11 home games remaining, only three of those 11 will come against teams with losing records, and two of those three are against teams – Orlando and Portland – still playing for the postseason.
  • In games played between the top six teams in the East, the Pacers are 5-3 at home and 0-4 on the road. They have seven games remaining within the group, and five of the seven are away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The first of those is Sunday in Toronto and the last two are a back-to-back set, April 7-8 in Miami and Boston.
  • The Heat have the most East-heavy remaining schedule, with 22 of their 28 games within the conference and their only road game against the Western Conference in New Orleans on March 6. (They’re just 4-10 in Western Conference arenas thus far.) Eleven of the Heat’s first 13 post-break games are against teams with losing records, though that stretch includes the Bucks’ only visit to Miami (March 2).
  • The Knicks‘ longest homestand of the season (five games) is Feb. 29 – March 8 and includes visits from the Rockets, Jazz and Thunder. The Clippers also make their only trip to Madison Square Garden on March 23.
  • The Magic have just a two-game lead in the loss column for eighth place in the East, but while the ninth-place Wizards have the East’s second toughest remaining schedule (in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage), the Magic have its second easiest remaining schedule. After the Magic host the Mavs on Friday, they will play 15 of their next 19 games against teams currently under .500. They end the season with a tougher stretch, but with Brooklyn having a tougher (and more road-heavy) schedule overall, the Magic have a legit chance to move up to seventh place. The two teams play each other three more times (on Monday in Brooklyn and then twice in late March) and the Magic already have a 1-0 head-to-head advantage.
  • The Sixers have the fewest remaining games (eight) against teams that currently have winning records, and it’s very possible that the Grizzlies won’t have a winning record anymore when the Sixers visit Memphis on April 13. The first three of those eight games against good teams are on the road against the Bucks (Saturday), Clippers (March 1) and Lakers (March 3). The Sixers also have a few marquee games at home: March 18 against Toronto, March 31 against Houston, and April 7 against Milwaukee.
  • As noted above, the Raptors have three more games against the Bucks. Two of those (a home-and-home set), along with a three-game homestand with visits from the Celtics, Nuggets and Lakers, are part of stretch (March 18 – April 5) where the champs are playing nine of 10 against teams that currently have winning records. The Raptors’ longest homestand of the season is only four games, it’s their first four games after the All-Star break, and it includes visits from the Pacers (Sunday) and Bucks (Tuesday).
  • The Wizards come out of the break just two games in the loss column behind the eighth-place Magic. But Washington has the East’s second toughest schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.531, 15 of 29 games against teams with winning records) and a league-high six rest-disadvantage games remaining. They don’t have any games left against Orlando, having been swept in the season series. The Magic have the tie-breaker and a much easier remaining schedule.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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