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Schedule analysis: 2nd half of 2020-21 season

Breaking down the schedule for each team as the 2nd half of the season tips off.

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

The Spurs will have one of the busiest — and toughest — schedules in the 2nd half of 2020-21.

With the All-Star break coming to an end on Wednesday, the NBA begins what will be a jam-packed, 10-week journey toward the 2021 postseason.

The pre-break portion of the 2020-21 schedule turned out to be 533 games over 73 days, an average of 7.3 games per day. The post-break schedule calls for *546 games over 68 days, an average of 8.0 per day. That doesn’t seem like a huge difference, but it crosses an important threshold: 7.5 games is half the league.

* There are 547 games left to be played, but a the Feb. 28 Chicago-Toronto game that was postponed (after the release of the second-half schedule) has yet to be rescheduled. It could fit on April 7 or 8 without resulting in a back-to-back-to-back for either team. For now, this breakdown doesn’t include that game.

So there will be a lot more back-to-backs. In the first half of the schedule (as played), there were 6.6 back-to-backs per team. In the second half (as scheduled), there are 8.6 per team. At least one of the two teams will be on the second half of a back-to-back in 219 (40%) of the 546 games. That’s up from 32% (168/533) in the first half (as played).

Two quick reminders regarding this season

1. It’s a 72-game season, with each team playing two games against each of the 15 teams in the opposite conference and three games against each of the other 14 teams within its own conference. (15 x 2) + (14 x 3) = 72

2. The top six teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs. Teams 7-10 qualify for a three-game play-in tournament, where the seventh and eight-place teams play for the No. 7 seed. The loser of that game would then play the winner of a game between the ninth and 10-place teams for the final playoff spot.


A busy 10 weeks

The Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs are the teams with the most work remaining, each scheduled to play 40 games over the next 68 days. They’re the only two teams without any two-day breaks, and they each have 11 back-to-backs over the next 10 weeks.

Both teams have more road games than home games to play. The Grizzlies have one of the three longest road trips of the second-half schedule, seven games over 11 days from April 16-26. The last six games of that trip are against teams — Milwaukee, Denver (x 2), Portland (x 2) and the Clippers — with winning records. And the end of that trip is the start of a stretch where the Grizzlies are playing 16 games over the last 22 days of the season.

One positive for the Grizzlies is that they have a league-high 14 games against teams that played the day before. Despite their own 11 back-to-backs, they have more *rest-advantage games (8) than rest-disadvantage games (5) over the next 10 weeks and if games are played as scheduled, they’ll finish with the league’s biggest differential (14 vs. 6). Alas, they’re only 2-4 in rest-advantage games thus far.

* Rest advantage = Didn’t play the day before. Opponent is playing the second game of a back-to-back.
Rest disadvantage = Playing the second game of a back-to-back. Opponent didn’t play the day before.
In the first half, teams were 78-61 (.561) in rest-advantage games, 46-31 at home and 32-30 on the road.

Breaking down Western Conference second-half schedules

NBA TV reviews which teams in the Western Conference have the easiest and toughest schedules in the second half of 2020-21.

The Spurs have one of the longest homestands of the second half, nine games over 15 days from March 22 through April 5. But that’s preceded by a five-game trip and followed by a stretch where they’re playing 17 of 22 on the road with seven back-to-backs. After that 22-game stretch, their remaining schedule is just a two-game series at home against the Suns. One positive is that the Spurs’ have five two-game series (most in the league) to help reduce travel over the next 10 weeks.

But the Spurs don’t just have one of busiest second-half schedules. They have the second toughest in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage.

Only half (20) of their 40 games are against the other 13 teams that come out of the break with winning records, but 13 of those 20 are against the upper half of that group (the seven teams over .600). They still have to play all three of their games against the Suns, along with two each against the Clippers, Bucks and Sixers. Eight of those 13 are in the Spurs’ last 10 games of the season, a stretch that also includes a game against the Blazers. The Spurs are playing seven games in the last 10 days of the season, a stretch that takes them from the West Coast to the East Coast and then back home.

The Spurs come out of the break in seventh place in the West, in good position to get back to the postseason after seeing their 22-year playoff streak come to an end last season. Given how tough their remaining schedule is, climbing back into the top six (where they’d avoid the play-in) or just remaining in the top eight (where they’d only have to win one play-in game) will be difficult.


Western Conference breakdown

West remaining schedule breakdown

Team Game Home Road B2B RA | RDA OppPCT .500+ OppO OppD
Houston 38 21 17 10 5 | 4 0.523 23 17 | 11 14 | 10
San Antonio 40 17 23 11 8 | 6 0.520 20 19 | 10 10 | 15
Minnesota 36 19 17 8 3 | 4 0.518 19 16 | 10 13 | 12
L.A. Lakers 35 17 18 8 8 | 8 0.509 17 16 | 10 9 | 12
Portland 37 19 18 10 4 | 7 0.506 18 14 | 10 13 | 10
New Orleans 36 17 19 8 2 | 5 0.505 22 10 | 14 12 | 14
Phoenix 37 18 19 9 10 | 6 0.505 18 10 | 14 16 | 11
Memphis 40 18 22 11 8 | 5 0.501 21 16 | 16 14 | 14
LA Clippers 34 18 16 7 2 | 6 0.495 17 11 | 10 12 | 8
Oklahoma City 36 19 17 9 5 | 8 0.493 16 12 | 11 12 | 13
Golden State 35 18 17 8 6 | 4 0.490 12 13 | 11 13 | 13
Sacramento 36 16 20 8 5 | 5 0.489 17 6 | 14 17 | 13
Denver 36 20 16 8 6 | 7 0.488 15 11 | 11 12 | 10
Dallas 38 19 19 10 8 | 9 0.483 17 14 | 15 14 | 14
Utah 36 19 17 8 5 | 6 0.475 14 11 | 13 13 | 14

B2B = Back-to-backs
RA, RDA = Rest-advantage, Rest-disadvantage games
OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage
> .500 = Games vs. the 14 teams currently over .500
OppO = Games against teams currently in the top 10 & bottom 10 in offensive efficiency
OppD = Games against teams currently in the top 10 & bottom 10 in defensive efficiency

Western Conference notes…

  • The Mavs have one of the West’s easiest schedules in regard to opponent strength, and it’s easiest at the end, when they play 10 of their last 11 games against teams that are currently at or below .500. But they have a West-high nine rest-disadvantage games, with five of those in a stretch of 14 games in 22 days from April 21 through May 12.
  • The Nuggets have the West’s most home-heavy remaining schedule, with 20 of their 36 games at Ball Arena. After they open the second half in Memphis on Friday, they’ll play 12 of their next 16 games at home, with three of the four road games part of a smaller stretch where they’re playing eight straight against teams that currently have losing records.
  • The Warriors have the worst record (7-15) in games played between the 14 teams that currently have winning records. And their second half begins with games against the Clippers, Jazz and Lakers. But after that, only nine of their final 32 games are against those other 13 teams.
  • The Rockets have the league’s toughest remaining schedule in regard to opponent winning percentage, with 23 of their 38 games against the 14 teams that currently have winning records. The slate actually starts off relatively easy, but from March 31 through May 14, 20 of the Rockets’ 25 games will be against those top 14 teams.
  • The Clippers have the fewest remaining games (34), with a stretch of 17 days (April 24 – May 8) where they’re playing only five. But they’re also only playing three games against opponents who played the night before. They have four more rest-disadvantage games (6) than rest-advantage games (2). They’re 5-0 in rest-disadvantage games thus far, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The two rest-advantage games are at the end of a nine-game homestand (March 27 – April 11) that includes games against the Sixers, Bucks, Nuggets, Lakers, Blazers and Suns.
  • The Lakers‘ No. 1 defense has one of the toughest remaining schedules in regard to opposing offenses. They’re also one of two West teams (the Spurs are the other) with more games remaining against the Eastern Conference. With a 7-5 record in interconference games thus far, they’ll play 18 of their final 35 games against the East. They have a four game homestand that includes games against both Philadelphia (March 25) and Milwaukee (March 31), as well as a seven-game trip that includes a stop in Brooklyn (April 10).
  • The Timberwolves have one of the league’s toughest remaining schedules, and it’s toughest early on. Starting Saturday, they have a stretch of five games in seven nights where they’re playing the Blazers (x 2), Lakers and Suns (x 2).
  • If the 11th-place Pelicans are going to climb into the play-in tournament, they’ll have to do it against a tough schedule. They’re tied (with the Clippers) for the fewest rest-advantage games remaining (2). They’re also tied (with the Rockets and Wolves) for the fewest games remaining against the 14 teams that currently have losing records (13). Two of those are this week, when they host the Wolves and Cavs on Thursday and Friday. Then they’ll play eight straight against teams with winning records.
  • The Thunder will have an opportunity to play Eastern Conference spoiler, with 17 games against the opposite conference, including 10 against the teams that currently sit between fifth and 12th place in the East.
  • The Suns have the biggest differential between rest-advantage games (10) and rest-disadvantage games (6). They also have two soft, five-game homestands (one which begins Saturday). But they’ll play 12 of their final 16 games on the road and 14 of their final 17 against teams currently over .500, with a five-game trip that includes visits to Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
  • The Blazers‘ 10 back-to-backs are tied for the most after the Grizzlies and Spurs. The first of the 10 (and also the first of three straight two-game series) is Saturday and Sunday in Minnesota. They’re one of two teams (the Suns are the other) with a “Florida Triangle” trip in the second half, playing three straight games in Florida from March 25-28. The back end of their second-half schedule (when they could have CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic back) is tougher than the front end.
  • The Jazz have the league’s easiest remaining schedule, in part because they don’t have to play the team with the league’s best record. They also have the most West-heavy remaining schedule, with 25 of their 36 games within the conference. Four of their first seven games (including a visit from the Nets on March 24) are rest-advantage games, but they’ll have just one after that.

Top of the East

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have the East’s toughest second-half schedule.

There’s a great, three-team race at the top of the Eastern Conference. Coming out of the break, the Milwaukee Bucks are in third place, two games behind the first place Philadelphia 76ers and a game and a half behind the Brooklyn Nets.

The Bucks have the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams at the top of the East. But one reason for that is the five games they have against the other two. So, while they’re playing from behind and have the toughest road ahead, the Bucks control their own destiny. The No. 1 seed for a third straight season is certainly within reach.

Breaking down Eastern Conference second-half schedules

NBA TV takes a quick look at which teams in the Eastern Conference have the easiest and toughest schedules in the second half of 2020-21.

Plus, the Bucks will play all five of those games against Philly and Brooklyn at home or with a rest advantage. Next Wednesday (March 17), they’re in Philadelphia, with the Sixers having played the Knicks the night before. On April 22 and 24, the Bucks will host the Sixers in a two-game series, playing with another rest advantage in the first game. And on May 2 and 4, the Nets will be in Milwaukee for another two-game series.

The Bucks’ remaining schedule is East-heavy (23 of 36 within the conference). But they have a big, six-game trip (March 29 – April 8) through the West that begins with two games in L.A. and includes visits to Portland, Golden State and Dallas. They’re currently 5-5 against the nine West teams with winning records.

The Sixers also have a two-game stop in L.A., facing the Lakers and Clippers on March 25 and 27. That’s part of a stretch (that ends with their two-game series in Milwaukee) where they’re played 13 of 18 games against teams that are currently over .500. But when they leave Milwaukee, only one of their final 12 games (May 2 in San Antonio) is against a team that comes out of the break with a winning record.

The Sixers have eight rest-disadvantage games, with two of those against the Bucks, as noted above. That first meeting with the Bucks (at home) is the end of a stretch of five games in seven nights to start the second-half schedule. They have another five-in-seven stretch in May, starting with that visit to San Antonio.

The Nets are one of two teams (the Knicks are the other) without any stretches of five games in seven nights. They also have the East’s easiest schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage.

But if you’re looking for a stretch of that will test the Nets’ 26th-ranked defense, take their 11 games from April 20 through May 8. Eight of those 11 games (including their two games in Milwaukee against the second-ranked Bucks) will be against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. Two of the other three are against the 12th-ranked Celtics and 13th-ranked Mavs, teams that could certainly be ranked higher by then.


Eastern Conference breakdown

East remaining schedule breakdown

Team Game H R B2B RA | RDA OppPCT > .500 OppO OppD
Orlando 36 16 20 8 7 | 4 0.520 18 12 | 8 13 | 10
New York 35 18 17 6 7 | 4 0.515 17 12 | 8 11 | 11
Chicago 37 18 19 9 6 | 5 0.512 17 11 | 13 15 | 9
Toronto 35 19 16 8 10 | 7 0.509 17 10 | 14 12 | 13
Milwaukee 36 17 19 9 7 | 7 0.502 17 6 | 12 12 | 13
Charlotte 37 19 18 8 7 | 6 0.497 18 13 | 14 9 | 12
Indiana 37 18 19 10 3 | 9 0.497 15 11 | 15 13 | 13
Cleveland 36 17 19 9 10 | 7 0.496 13 11 | 10 11 | 15
Boston 36 19 17 8 3 | 5 0.494 16 11 | 15 13 | 13
Detroit 36 20 16 8 9 | 6 0.493 14 11 | 11 8 | 15
Washington 38 19 19 8 7 | 7 0.493 16 12 | 13 13 | 11
Atlanta 36 19 17 8 6 | 3 0.491 14 13 | 13 12 | 10
Philadelphia 36 17 19 9 5 | 8 0.488 17 11 | 14 12 | 12
Miami 36 18 18 9 3 | 6 0.487 16 7 | 11 10 | 13
Brooklyn 35 17 18 7 6 | 7 0.484 15 11 | 11 8 | 12

B2B = Back-to-backs
RA, RDA = Rest-advantage, Rest-disadvantage games
OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage
> .500 = Games vs. the 14 teams currently over .500
OppO = Games against teams currently in the top 10 & bottom 10 in offensive efficiency
OppD = Games against teams currently in the top 10 & bottom 10 in defensive efficiency

Eastern Conference notes…

  • The Hawks are just 1-5 in rest-disadvantage games, but have a league-low three rest-disadvantage games over the next 10 weeks. And those three games are against Cleveland (on Sunday), Detroit and Orlando. The Hawks’ time to gain some traction in the Eastern Conference is now, as they begin their second-half schedule with five games against teams with losing records. That stretch is followed by the longest road trip for any team in the second half: eight games over 13 days, starting with two in L.A.
  • The Celtics have seen the league’s fourth biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions, ranking 16th defensively after ranking fourth last season. Their defense will have a tough start to the second half, with six of their first 11 games (with a game in Brooklyn on Thursday and a two-game series in Milwaukee) against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively. But things will get easier after that, and the Celtics will finish their schedule with five straight games against teams that currently rank no better than 23rd in offensive efficiency. Overall, they have the league’s third easiest schedule in regard to opposing offenses.
  • April 10 is kind of a dividing point of the Hornets‘ second-half schedule, splitting the road portion from the home portion. They begin with a three-game homestand that includes a big game against the Raptors on Saturday. But then they play 11 of their next 13 games on the road. Starting April 11, the Hornets will play 14 of 19 at home before playing their final two games on the road.
  • The Bulls, having played 19 of their 34 games against the opposite conference, have the most East-heavy remaining schedule, with 26 of their 37 games (including each of their last 17) within the conference. They also have the league’s toughest remaining schedule in regard to opposing defenses, with 15 of their 37 games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively and only nine against teams that rank in the bottom 10. And the toughest part in that regard is the start. Nine of their first 13 games are against top-10 defenses. That includes two games each against the fourth-ranked Jazz and ninth-ranked Spurs.
  • The Cavs are tied (with Phoenix and Toronto) for the most rest-advantage games (10) over the next 10 weeks. They’re also tied (with Detroit and San Antonio) with the most games against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 defensively. Their first two games of the second half are rest advantage games (on the road) against the 29th-ranked Pelicans (Friday) and the 23rd-ranked Hawks (Sunday).
  • The Pistons have the East’s most home-heavy remaining schedule, with 20 of their 36 games at Little Caesars Arena. That includes nine of their last 11. They’re also tied with Brooklyn for the fewest games (8) against the league’s top 10 defenses. And half of those eight games are against the ninth-ranked Spurs and 10th-ranked Thunder.
  • The Pacers have the biggest discrepancy between rest-advantage games (3) and rest-disadvantage games (9). Their first four games are their toughest stretch of the second half. After visiting the Lakers (Friday), Suns (rest disadvantage) and Nuggets, they return home to host the Nets next Wednesday.
  • The Heat have the East’s second easiest schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage. They begin the second half with seven straight games against teams currently at or below .500, though the first five are a five-games-in-seven-days stretch. They have a more difficult and travel-heavy stretch of eight games in 12 days from April 13-24.
  • The Knicks‘ six remaining back-to-backs are the fewest for any team in the league. But they do have one of the league’s toughest five-game stretches, the end of a six-game trip (May 2-11) that starts in Houston, but then takes them to Memphis, Denver, Phoenix and L.A. to play both the Clippers and Lakers.
  • The Magic have the toughest remaining schedule in the East, and the toughest part is the start. Thirteen of their first 14 games are against teams currently at (two games against the Heat) or above .500. The end of that run – a five-game trip (March 28 – April 4) in which they’ll face the Lakers, Clippers, Pelicans, Jazz and Nuggets – is one of the toughest five-game stretches for any team going forward.
  • The Raptors have the toughest five-game stretch of the remaining schedule. It starts with a rest-disadvantage game at home against the Nets on April 27 and continues with a four-game trip where they’ll face the Nuggets, Jazz, Lakers and Clippers. The good news is that’s one of just two trips of more than three games. And if that Feb. 28 game against the Bulls gets rescheduled, the Raps will be tied with the Pistons for the most East’s home-heavy remaining schedule, with 20 of 36 at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  • The Wizards have the most games remaining against the 14 teams that currently have losing records. Most of those are in the last five weeks, when they’ll play 14 of their final 19 games (including each of their last six) against teams that come out of the break below .500.

* * *

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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