Kit Shepard | August 15th, 2018
For the majority of NBA teams, their schedule is not of major relevance. Sure, it allows players and fans to circle key matchups against notable opponents but, with each franchise playing a mammoth 82 games, whether the schedule adds a few more wins or losses is irrelevant to their ultimate position.
However, for those on the fringes of the playoffs, the schedule is crucial, as one game could be the difference between the postseason and lottery. Although everyone plays everyone, and all teams have long road trips to endure, the timing of these occurrences is key to a select few teams. Whether it is facing the worst teams at the end of the season when tanking is the opposition’s priority, or having a string of tough matchups in the bleak midwinter of a long campaign, when and where these teams play the other 29 in the NBA is crucial. Here is an analysis of the schedules for the teams on the cusp of the playoffs in the Western Conference, according to Vegas’ over/under win totals.
Vegas over/under win total: 47.5 (6th in the West)
The Good News: Their first eight opponents include three of the worst four teams in the league according to Vegas (Suns, Kings, and Bulls), as well as two other franchises projected to miss the playoffs in the Cavaliers and the Clippers. Granted, early encounters with the Warriors and LeBron James‘ Lakers are far from ideal, but Denver has a great opportunity to build some early momentum.
The Bad News: Brace yourself Denver fans. The Nuggets end March with a four-game road trip out East, where a back-to-back against the Wizards and then the Knicks is sandwiched by visits to playoff locks Boston and Indiana. When they return West, Denver’s last nine games are mildly terrifying. The final stretch not only includes away games against four of the projected top five seeds (Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, and Jazz) but a quartet of games against teams who will be likely fighting for their postseason lives in the West. After a clash with the Spurs and two versus the Trail Blazers, they end against none other than the Timberwolves, who defeated the Nuggets in overtime to secure the final playoff spot in last season’s winner-take-all 82nd game.
Verdict: While the start is kind, the Nuggets’ nightmare finish to the season means their schedule is far from ideal and could threaten their bid to return to the playoffs after a five-year absence.
New Orleans Pelicans
Vegas over/under win total: 45.5 (7th)
The Good News: The Pelicans’ final 11 games include eight encounters with teams projected to miss the playoffs. This should allow Anthony Davis and company to pick up some routine wins against teams who, with one if not both eyes on the 2019 draft lottery, will have accepted that losing is far from the worst thing by this late stage of the season. In particular, Games against the Hawks, Suns, and Kings towards the end of March and start of April should be simple W’s.
The Bad News: A mid-January road-trip, highlighted by a visit to Golden State, will test the Pelicans’ physical and mental fortitude. With the season over 30 games old and the relief of the All-Star break still a month away, they will have to overcome inevitable weariness and lethargy to make this intimidating stretch a success.
Verdict: If they can avoid complacency, the Pelicans’ schedule should help them rather than hinder in the coming campaign.
Vegas over/under win total: 44.5 (8th)
The Good News: There is no relentless stretch of games for last season’s eighth seed. December looks to be the toughest month on paper, but consecutive games against the Suns, Kings, and Suns again, the worst the West had to offer last time around, provide some light relief midway through the season. Likewise, despite rounding off the year with trips to San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Miami and New Orleans, games against the Bulls and Hawks just after Christmas mean that Minnesota should have some reason for celebration over the festive period.
The Bad News: Like Denver, the Timberwolves end the season with a string of tough assignments. While seven of their last nine games are at home, April includes matchups against the Trail Blazers, Heat, Thunder and Raptors, who will all be scrapping for seeding. They will also be hoping that they do not require a win in their final game against Denver to make the playoffs this time around. After Minnesota effectively eliminated them last year, sealing the Timberwolves’ fate would be perfect revenge for the Nuggets, thus they will not roll over regardless of their own situation.
Verdict: Not the best schedule, but there should not be too many prolonged losing streaks for the Timberwolves.
San Antonio Spurs
Vegas over/under win total: 43.5 (9th)
The Good News: The continued reduction of back-to-backs; at an all-time low of just 13.3 per team next season, will be welcomed in San Antonio. The reduced intensity will allow coach Gregg Popovich, notoriously conservative when resting players, to keep his squad fresh for the entire campaign. With 38-year-old Pau Gasol and 41-year-old Manu Ginobili (if he does not retire) set to be key pieces for the Spurs again, this could be pivotal.
The Bad News: The Spurs have two consecutive four-game road trips in February, with the All-Star break in between. As a result, there will not be a single NBA game in San Antonio for 25 straight days in the heart of the season. Last year, the Spurs were 14-27 in their road games, an abysmal record for a team with postseason aspirations. If they do not turn this around, they could go the best part of a month without a win, destroying all momentum.
Verdict: While February will test the Spurs’ resolve, there is no coach more experienced than Popovich at handling the adversity of a demanding schedule.
Portland Trail Blazers
Vegas over/under win total: 41.5 (10th)
The Good News: Games against the Nets, Bulls, and Hawks at the end of March give the Trail Blazers the perfect opportunity to gain some confidence before potentially crucial clashes with the Timberwolves and Nuggets (twice) in early April. Should they require a win in their final game, a visit from the Kings is the ideal fix.
The Bad News: Portland’s success last season was built on a 12-game winning streak after the all-star break. However, this included eight home games. This time around, 10 of the Trail Blazer’s opening 12 games after the midseason interlude are on the road, including a seven-game road trip. Clearly, they will have to find success away from the Moda Center to repeat the trick.
Verdict: While the road trip after the all-star break is not disastrous, Portland must find a different route to the playoffs next season.
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