Winners and Losers of the NBA Schedule Release
Written by: Jonathan Lidskin
NBA fans can rejoice once more. The NBA schedule was released last night and we found out that we will have some interesting matchups in the 16 days the NBA will take to finish the regular season. Just a reminder for some quick NBA fans, every team will play one back-to-back and every team will also play 8 games to finish the regular season. With that being said, the first thing of note when any schedule is released in a sport is who has the hardest schedule and who has the easiest schedule. The second thing of note is the key matchups. So, let’s take a look at some winners and losers, as well as some key games in the remaining NBA regular season schedule.
New Orleans Pelicans:
This was suspected, but many NBA theorists will jump all over this schedule. The Pelicans have the easiest schedule out of any team in the bubble. Their schedule was supposed to be easy in the second half of the season, but they are the only NBA team in the bubble where their opponents win percentage is under .500. This is crazy to think about saying that only 8 out of the other 21 teams in the bubble have a record under .500. The Pelicans will play 6 of those teams. You can say all you want about the NBA trying to get Zion into the playoffs, but who wouldn’t want him in?
Zion Williamson attacks the lane in a game against the Timberwolves (Photo: Duke Basketball Report)
The 76ers have the second easiest schedule of any team, but there are a couple key parts of their schedule that really emphasize having the second easiest schedule. The first part is that the 76ers won’t play a top 4 seed in their first 6 games. This could help them move up in seeding and avoid playing the Celtics in the first round. The second part is that they will play 3 teams who are playing them in the second game of their back-to-back. This is a huge advantage for them as teams already will not have multiple days off in a row off. The 76ers easy schedule could potentially set up a Sixers-Bucks Eastern Conference Semifinal. Now that would be something everyone would love to see!
The 76ers currently hold the 6 seed in the Eastern Conference (Photo: Yahoo! Sports)
The Grizzlies are one team that absolutely did not want a difficult schedule. Being pretty much locked into an 8th seed in the west, the Grizzlies were just hoping for an easy schedule to avoid playing a play-in series. With the 6th hardest schedule, that will be nearly impossible now with the Blazers, Pelicans and Kings only 3.5 games back of them. It’ll be up to Ja Morant and Co. to win some early games against some non-playoff teams in order to possibly avoid a play-in series now.
The Grizzlies will rely on Morant to step up during the final 8 regular season games (Photo: NBA.com)
Plain and simple. The Raptors just got an absolute terror of a schedule. They’ll play every single one of their 8 remaining games against teams that are currently holding playoff spots. If you didn’t pick up on it from the last stat, they have the hardest schedule in the league of the regular season bubble games. The thing that is even more mind boggling is that while the Raptors will get to play both current 8 seeds, 5 of their other 6 games they have are against teams that currently hold a seed of 4 or higher. They’ll play the Bucks in the second game of their back-to-back. Nick Nurse will be guiding his team through a gauntlet before the playoffs even start.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse will be tasked with navigating his team through an extremely difficult 8 game stretch to finish the regular season (Photo: USAToday.com)
Important Games to Watch:
Lakers vs Clippers (July 30th):
These two teams have met three times already this season with the Clippers winning two matchups in the Battle of LA. One of those wins was without Paul George. Although the Clippers hold the edge, the Lakers did win the last matchup on March 8th. They will look to even up the season series heading into the NBA Playoffs.
LeBron James backs down Kawhi Leonard in a game on Christmas Day (Photo: CBS Sports)
Grizzlies vs Pelicans (August 3rd):
In a matchup that will feature the two best rookies in the NBA this season, this game will be about more than just Zion vs Ja. The Pelicans are fighting for that 9th seed in order to play the Grizzlies in a play-in series to get into the playoffs. Winning a regular season game against the Grizzlies would be a really easy way to close the gap, so the Pelicans need to take advantage of this game. For the Grizzlies, their schedule isn’t easy, so this will be one of the games they have a solid chance at winning.
Celtics vs Bucks (July 31st):
This is a matchup that many people think will end up being the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bucks have the possible MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo going up against the young and balanced Celtics team. It will be interesting to see how Boston tries to slow down Giannis. Jaylen Brown will probably be the guy with the assignment, but you should expect to see Brad Stevens overplay the helpline to stop Giannis from getting to the rim.
Giannis drives to the rim while being defended by Jayson Tatum (Photo: CBS Sports)
Lakers vs Rockets (August 6th):
The Lakers being on the National Stage is something that someone everyone is used to. It won’t change with 7 of their 8 remaining regular season games on National TV. The interesting part about this matchup is their opponent. The Houston Rockets made a major move at the deadline by shipping Clint Capela in part of a four team trade. They got Robert Covington to go full “small ball”. The Rockets were still getting used to playing with their new lineup when the season was postponed, but one game that was interesting was their game against the Lakers at Staples Center. The Rockets won 121-111 and Russell Westbrook had 41 points. There are two things the Lakers should be worried about from that game: 1. The Rockets shot 45% from three. 2. Javale McGee and Dwight Howard played a combined 20 minutes. The Rockets small ball lineup made the Lakers come out of what they wanted to do. We’ll see August 6th if that game is just a fluke, but the Lakers now don’t have Avery Bradley which is a huge blow to their perimeter defense.