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Schedule breakdown: Timberwolves, Sixers will be tested in December

See how each team's December schedule stacks up with stats and notes on all 30 squads.

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves have the toughest schedule in the West during December.

The Minnesota Timberwolves might be the biggest surprise team in the Western Conference, entering December in seventh place with an 11-10 record. They’ve won seven of their last eight games, with the league’s fourth-ranked defense over that stretch.

The run includes wins over Miami and Philadelphia (with Joel Embiid), and the Wolves are about to be tested even more, because they have the Western Conference’s toughest December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.572). All 14 of the Wolves’ December games will be against teams that enter the month at .500 or better. Now, 21 of the league’s 30 teams are included in that .500-or-better group, but only one other team (Boston) doesn’t have a December game against the bottom nine.

The Wolves begin the month with two of their toughest games, playing in Washington (where the Wizards are 7-2) on Wednesday and in Brooklyn on Friday. They also have three games against the 14-7 Utah Jazz this month, with two of those three (Dec. 23 and Dec. 31) in Utah.

The Wolves’ only two games against .500 teams are also on the road: Dec. 12 in Portland (where the 11-11 Blazers are 10-1) and Dec. 15 in Denver (where the 10-10 Nuggets are 7-4). Those two games begin a critical five game stretch – they’re followed by a game against the Lakers and a home-and-home set against the Dallas Mavericks – that could go a long way in determining the Wolves’ ability to hang in the top eight in the Western Conference.

The good news is that it’s a relatively easy month in regard to rest. The Wolves have just one back-to-back in December and it’s two straight home games: Dec. 27 and 28 against the Celtics and Knicks (who will be rested). Their one rest-advantage* game of the month is Monday against the Hawks, who play at home the night before.

* 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.
Through November, teams are 45-30 (.600) in rest-advantage games, 29-19 at home and 16-11 on the road.


Western Conference breakdown

Team Games Home Road B2B RA | RDA OppPCT > .500 OppO OppD
Minnesota 14 7 7 1 1 | 1 0.572 12 6 | 3 6 | 4
Portland 14 10 4 1 2 | 1 0.564 12 5 | 5 7 | 5
San Antonio 16 8 8 4 3 | 4 0.538 10 7 | 4 6 | 6
Denver 15 4 11 2 1 | 2 0.516 10 6 | 6 6 | 4
Utah 14 8 6 2 2 | 1 0.512 11 3 | 5 6 | 3
Phoenix 14 9 5 2 4 | 2 0.512 9 4 | 8 5 | 4
Sacramento 15 10 5 4 1 | 3 0.497 11 2 | 7 5 | 7
Golden State 14 7 7 3 2 | 3 0.497 6 4 | 3 3 | 5
L.A. Lakers 14 7 7 2 3 | 2 0.491 9 4 | 6 6 | 5
Memphis 16 9 7 3 6 | 3 0.490 8 6 | 6 3 | 6
Houston 16 7 9 4 2 | 4 0.481 11 5 | 6 4 | 6
Dallas 16 7 9 3 2 | 3 0.474 9 4 | 4 4 | 8
LA Clippers 15 7 8 2 3 | 2 0.473 6 4 | 6 5 | 6
Oklahoma City 15 8 7 3 2 | 3 0.467 8 2 | 6 3 | 8
New Orleans 13 6 7 0 2 | 0 0.400 5 2 | 7 1 | 5

B2B = Back-to-backs
RA, RDA = Rest-advantage, Rest-disadvantage games
OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage
> .500 = Games vs. the 19 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 seen the league’s fourth biggest drop in offensive efficiency, having scored 8.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. But they have the league’s easiest December schedule in regard to opposing defenses, with eight of their sixteen games against teams that currently rank in the bottom six defensively. They start the month with a home-and-home set against the 25th-ranked Pelicans and end it with two games in Sacramento against the 28th-ranked Kings.

• The Nuggets have the league’s sixth biggest home-road differential in regard to winning percentage (7-4 vs. 3-6) and its third biggest differential in regard to point differential per 100 possessions (+4.6 vs. -6.8). And they have the league’s most road-heavy December schedule, with 11 of their 15 games on the road. As the month begins, they’re one game into a seven-game trip that takes them from Florida to New York, to Chicago and then to New Orleans and San Antonio. And things get tougher in regard to opponent strength later in the month, with their last two games of 2021 being a home-and-home set with the Warriors.

• The Warriors are 2-1 in games played between the league’s top eight teams after their loss in Phoenix on Tuesday. Their only two December games within that group (five of the eight are in the East) are also against the Suns, who they’ll play again on Friday (at home) and on Christmas (in Phoenix). They’re one of five teams that have five December breaks of two days or more, with the first of those being the first two days of the month. They’ll have a rest advantage for that Friday game, with the Suns having played at home (against Detroit) the night before.

• The Rockets have four rest-disadvantage games, tied (with the Bucks and Spurs) for the most in the league, this month. Two of those are part of a stretch of five games in seven days from Dec. 10-16. Their December schedule is East-heavy (12/16), with seven of the 15 games they’re playing in Eastern Conference arenas this season taking place from Dec. 13-27.

• The Clippers begin December with a home game against the Kings on Wednesday. That’s the end of their second six-game homestand, and after a “road” game against the Lakers on Friday (their first meeting of the season), they will have played 17 of their 23 games at Staples Center. So things will start to get road-heavy after that, though their first games of the season in Eastern Conference arenas won’t be until a three-game trip that starts Dec. 29 in Boston.

• The Lakers haven’t been nearly as strong a defensive team as they were last season, ranking 16th on that end of the floor and one of only four teams who have allowed more points per 100 possessions than they did in 2020-21. They closed November by holding Sacramento to a 33-point second half and they’ll play four of their first five games of December against teams that rank in the bottom eight offensively. The only exception (Dec. 9 at Memphis) is a rest-advantage game for L.A.

• The Grizzlies have six rest-advantage games, most in the league, in December. That includes their first two and five of their first eight games of the month. Two of those rest-advantage games are against the Mavs, Saturday in Dallas and next Wednesday in Memphis. The Grizz also have the league’s most West-heavy December schedule, with 14 of their 16 games within the conference.

• The Pelicans are starting to climb out of the hole they dug when they lost 12 of their first 13 games, and they could be getting Zion Williamson back this month. More good news: They have the league’s easiest December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.400), with only five of their 13 games against the 19 teams that are currently over .500. And only one of those (Dec. 17 vs. Milwaukee) is against one of the eight teams that’s currently over .600. They’re also the only team that doesn’t have a back-to-back this month.

• The Thunder are the only Western Conference team that hasn’t had a rest-advantage game this season. Their first two (of nine total) will be Dec. 10 vs. the Lakers and Dec. 20 at Memphis. The Thunder will also visit Phoenix twice in a seven-day span. We have two-game series now, but a homestand that includes two separate visits from the same team? That’s the case when the Thunder open and close the Suns’ four-game homestand on Dec. 23 and 29.

• The Suns got a huge win over the Warriors on Tuesday, but still enter December having played the fewest games (2) within the eight teams that enter the month at least five games over .500 (both came in the last four days of November). They’ll have only three more within that group this month, and two of the three – Friday at Golden State and Christmas Day in Phoenix – are against the Warriors. The other is Dec. 16, at home against the Wizards. The Suns have a nine-day stretch (Dec. 4-12) where they’re playing just two games, both at home, against the Spurs (Dec. 6) and Celtics (Dec. 10).

• The Blazers have the league’s biggest home-road differential, both in regard to winning percentage (10-1 vs. 1-10) and point differential per 100 possessions (+12.3 vs. -12.5). They have the West’s second toughest December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.564), but it’s the West’s most home-heavy December schedule, with 10 of their 14 games (including seven of their first eight) at Moda Center.

• The Kings won’t leave Northern California from Dec. 15 – Jan 2. They play nine of 10 at home, with the only road game at Golden State, over those 19 days.

• The Spurs have a stretch of five games in seven nights from Dec. 6-12. The last four games in that stretch are part of a five-game homestand and include a two-game series against the Nuggets. Their longest road trip of the season (that isn’t split by the All-Star break) is seven games over 11 days, and it begins Dec. 31 in Memphis.

• The Jazz will play 10 of their first 11 December games against teams that enter the month with winning records. They have two six-game homestands this season and one of them is Dec. 15-25, concluding with their Christmas matchup with Dallas.


Time for the Sixers to climb?

Joel Embiid and the Sixers have several key stretches during the month of December.

Anchored by two guys who finished in the top seven in Kia Defensive Player of the Year voting, the Philadelphia 76ers ranked second defensively last season. This season, with one of those defenders not playing and the other having missed 10 of their 21 games, the Sixers rank just 20th on that end of the floor, having seen the league’s second biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions.

The absence of Ben Simmons obviously matters, but the Sixers have still been solid defensively with Joel Embiid. They’ve allowed 113.4 points per 100 possessions in 10 games without him, but 105.0 per 100 in the 11 he’s played and just 102.1 per 100 with him on the floor.

In regard to opposing offenses, the Sixers have played a tougher schedule in the games Embiid has missed (none of the 10 have come against a team that currently ranks worse than 17th offensively) than they have in the games he’s played (five against the league’s bottom six offenses). Their win on Monday (Embiid’s second game back from his COVID absences) was their best defensive game of the season (96 points allowed on 103 possessions), but it came against the league’s 27th-ranked offense (that of the Magic).

So the next month will be a good test for the Sixers and Embiid, who have one of the league’s toughest December schedules. Thirteen of the Sixers’ 15 December games are against teams that enter the month with winning records (with six of those 13 against the league’s top eight teams), and 11 of the 16 are on the road. They’ll play two games this month against the first-place Nets, and both games (Dec. 16 and Dec. 30) are in Brooklyn.

It’s a particularly tough month in regard to opposing offenses. Nine of the Sixers’ 15 games are against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively, while only three are against teams that rank in the bottom 10. After they visit the Celtics (23rd) on Wednesday, the Sixers will play five straight games against teams that rank in the top five on offense.

As we enter December, the Sixers are healthy, and they sit in ninth place in the East at 11-10. Their December schedule includes two games each against the 11-10 Hawks, the 11-10 Celtics, and the 13-10 Hornets. So it’s also a big month in regard to where they finish in the Eastern Conference standings, and they’ll play all three of those teams (the Hornets twice) on the four-game road trip that begins Wednesday in Boston.


Eastern Conference breakdown

Team Games Home Road B2B RA | RDA OppPCT > .500 OppO OppD
Boston 15 8 7 3 2 | 3 0.610 14 7 | 4 8 | 1
Philadelphia 15 5 10 3 2 | 2 0.571 13 9 | 3 7 | 7
Indiana 13 10 3 1 3 | 1 0.551 11 7 | 2 5 | 4
Toronto 13 10 3 1 2 | 1 0.540 10 5 | 4 6 | 2
Washington 15 5 10 2 1 | 2 0.531 10 6 | 3 8 | 3
Orlando 15 6 9 3 0 | 3 0.524 10 6 | 4 5 | 5
Cleveland 16 7 9 4 1 | 3 0.521 12 6 | 3 6 | 5
Detroit 13 6 7 1 2 | 1 0.507 8 5 | 4 5 | 1
Charlotte 13 4 9 2 2 | 2 0.502 7 6 | 2 2 | 4
Atlanta 15 8 7 2 3 | 2 0.477 10 6 | 5 6 | 3
Brooklyn 15 8 7 3 4 | 3 0.461 9 5 | 5 3 | 6
Chicago 14 7 7 2 1 | 2 0.460 7 4 | 4 3 | 5
New York 15 7 8 2 5 | 2 0.455 7 3 | 6 4 | 4
Milwaukee 16 7 9 4 2 | 4 0.422 9 3 | 9 6 | 6
Miami 16 8 8 2 1 | 2 0.415 8 2 | 8 3 | 5

B2B = Back-to-backs
RA, RDA = Rest-advantage, Rest-disadvantage games
OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage
> .500 = Games vs. the 19 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 have two December games each against the Bulls, Cavs and Sixers. So it’s an important month in regard to their ability to move up from 10th place in the East. Two of their most important games of the year could be Friday (vs. Philly) and Sunday (vs. Charlotte).

• The Celtics have the league’s toughest December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage. All 15 of their games are against teams that enter the month at .500 or better. The Celtics also have the toughest schedule in regard to opposing defenses, with eight of their 15 opponents ranking in the top 10 on that end of the floor, and that doesn’t include two games against the 11th-ranked Bucks (No. 1 on defense since Khris Middleton returned) and two against the 20th-ranked Sixers (better defensively with a healthy Embiid). Only one of their 15 games (Saturday in Portland) is against a team that currently ranks in the bottom 10 defensively.

• The Nets have a five-game homestand (their longest on the remaining schedule) in the middle of the month that begins with three straight rest-advantage games (against Toronto, Philly and Orlando) and concludes with a visit from the fourth-place Wizards. They’re hosting the second-place Bulls on Saturday, though it will be the second time (in as many meetings) that they’ll have a rest disadvantage against Chicago.

• The Hornets are one of three teams – the Celtics and Thunder are the others – that haven’t had a rest-advantage game yet this season. Their first two (of 11 total) will come during their longest road trip of the season – six games in Western Conference arenas – from Dec. 13-23. While the trip includes two rest-advantage games (at Dallas and at Denver), it also includes a tough Phoenix-Utah back-to-back Dec. 19 and 20.

• The Bulls, as noted above, will have a rest advantage in Brooklyn on Saturday, and they’re 4-0 with a rest advantage thus far. The Bulls are one of five teams with five December breaks of two days or more, but that Brooklyn visit will be their only rest-advantage game this month. They’ll be at a disadvantage for the first game of what could be an important home-and-home series, Dec. 27 and 29 against Atlanta.

• The Cavs enter December at 11-10, but they will be tested early in the month. Their first five games: @ Miami, @ Washington, vs. Utah, @ Milwaukee, vs. Chicago. The last three of those games are the start of a stretch of five games in seven nights. In total, they have eight December games (most in the league) against the eight teams that enter the month at least five games over .500. They’re currently 0-6 against that group.

• The Pistons have struggled offensively; They’re one of two teams – Oklahoma City is the other – that have scored less than a point per possession this season. And their offense won’t catch many breaks in December, with only one of their 13 games (Dec. 10 at New Orleans) against a team that currently ranks in the bottom 10 defensively.

• The Pacers are tied with Toronto for the most home-heavy December schedule, with 10 of their 13 games at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. The month begins with their longest homestand of the season – six games over 13 days – and their three road games are all one-game trips. They also have four straight days off – the only such break for any team this month – from Dec. 17-20. But seven of their 13 games (only the Cavs have more) are against the eight teams that enter the month at least five games over .500. They’re currently 3-4 against that group.

• The Heat have the East’s easiest December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.415), tied with New Orleans for the most games (6) against the bottom six teams in the league. Only one of their final eight games of the month (Dec. 28 vs. Washington) is against a team that’s currently at or above .500, and that stretch includes two games each against Detroit and Orlando. The Heat also have the league’s most East-heavy month, with 13 of their 16 games within the conference.

• The Bucks have had the league’s best defense (98.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) since they got Khris Middleton back seven games ago (they’ve won all seven), but they’ve played a relatively easy schedule over the last two weeks. They’ll play three of their first five December games against top-10 offenses, with two big games – Saturday in Milwaukee, Dec. 8 in Miami – against the Heat included. After that, their schedule lightens up again, with eight of their final 11 games of 2021 against bottom-10 offenses. That stretch includes two games each against the 23rd-ranked Celtics, 27th-ranked Magic and 28th-ranked Rockets.

• The Knicks have five rest-advantage games, most in the East, this month. Four of the five are on the road and they have three straight rest-advantage games on Dec. 14 (vs. Golden State), Dec. 16 (at Houston) and Dec. 18 (at Boston). They’re 1-1 in rest-advantage games thus far, having won in New Orleans on Oct. 30 and lost to Milwaukee on Nov. 10.

• The Magic are the only team that doesn’t have a December opponent playing the second game of a back-to-back. They have three back-to-backs themselves, the first being two straight games in Los Angeles (Dec. 11 and 12) and the last two part of a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch from Dec. 17-23.

• The Raptors are back home this season, but they’ve been much better on the road (7-5, +2.3 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been in Toronto (2-8, -5.1). If they’re going to fix that, they can start with what’s tied (with Indiana) for the league’s most home-heavy December schedule. Ten of their 13 December games are at Scotiabank Arena, part of an extended stretch (from Nov. 28 – Jan. 11) where they’re playing 17 of 21 at home. As the month begins, they’re two games into a seven-game homestand that includes three two-day breaks.

• The Wizards have a relatively tough December schedule, with their last seven games of 2021 coming against teams currently over .500. That stretch includes road games against Utah, Brooklyn and Miami. From Dec. 5-23, the Wizards will play nine of 10 games on the road, a three-game road trip and a six-game trip (that touches both coasts) sandwiching a home game against the Jazz.

* * *

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.

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