The 2015-2016 NBA schedule produced some very clear winners, which we’ll get to soon enough, but today, let’s start with the equally clear losers. For background which informs this piece — and enables you to make your own judgments — consult this compilation of 30 quick facts about the NBA schedule. As you can see, the lineup of teams on a schedule recedes in centrality, relative to the logistical integrity of a schedule. This list might not be the same if one picked apart schedules and assessed them based on the difficulty of extended road trips, but that’s another discussion for another time.
Without further ado, here’s our list:
5 – DENVER NUGGETS
The Nuggets do have only 16 back-to-backs. Given that the high end is 20 and the low end is 14 for all NBA clubs this upcoming season, the Nuggets didn’t make out too badly in that regard. Why are they here, then? Everything else.
The biggest problem with the Nuggets’ schedule? It’s not just that they’re one of only five league teams to play two 4-in-5s this season; it’s that the first one comes later than three of the other teams playing 4-in-5s. Only Portland plays the first of two 4-in-5s at a later point than the Nuggets do this season. The Nuggets, saddled with that albatross, then have to play a second 4-in-5 at the very end of March. That’s brutal, and it’s a truly rare burden relative to what the other 29 teams in the league have to face.
Of the five teams that are playing two back-to-backs, it should not come as a surprise that three of those teams are on this list.
4 – LOS ANGELES LAKERS
The Lakers have to play only one 4-in-5 this season, and it comes early (Nov. 28 through Dec. 2). Why are the Lakers here? Weekend back-to-backs and the overall back-to-back count make this a very unfriendly schedule.
Weekend back-to-backs shouldn’t be such difficult travel situations. If an organization schedules a day game on a Saturday or Sunday, the next game (on a Sunday or Monday) should be much easier to get to and prepare for. That is called a “properly handled weekend back-to-back.” When NBA organizations fail to do that, we have a “poorly handled weekend back-to-back.” The Lakers are at fault for only one such instance, but they did get whacked with seven poorly handled weekend back-to-backs, two more than any other team in the NBA this season. That’s a considerable burden to bear, and it should make Laker players mad.
The overall back-to-back count for the Lakers: 18. That’s not the worst in the league, but it’s closer to the top than the bottom. This is a bad (logistical) schedule for the Lake Show. If there’s any consolation for the club, it’s that three teams clearly have worse arrangements in 2015-2016.
3 – DETROIT PISTONS
The Pistons are tied for second in the league with five poorly handled weekend back-to-backs, only one of which is their fault. The team doesn’t play a 4-in-5, but it does have 20 back-to-backs, tied for the most in the league. These accumulations of back-to-backs, several of which are unfairly arranged, is more than enough to diminish the value of not playing a 4-in-5. The fact that the Lakers have an early-season 4-in-5 keeps them behind the Pistons. Had the Lakers played their 4-in-5 after the All-Star break, we probably would have slotted Los Angeles here and pushed Detroit to No. 4.
2 – PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
The top two teams on this list (a list in which no one wants to be at the top) blew away everyone else. The Sixers were one of two teams who really got the short end of the stick — far more than Denver and the Lakers, and even Detroit. In many ways, this list could be separated into 1 and 2, followed by a gap of 400 miles, and then teams 3 through 5.
Why is Philadelphia’s schedule so horrible? It checks all the boxes of brutality, so to speak.
Back-to-backs: 19, merely one below the league-high of 20 (which is shared by five teams).
Poorly handled weekend back-to-backs: 5, tied for second (though only one instance is the Sixers’ fault).
The Sixers are one of five teams which plays two 4-in-5s. Like Denver, Philadelphia must play one of them late in the season, after the All-Star break. Like Denver, Philadelphia does not play the first of two 4-in-5s in November. Atlanta and Minnesota play two 4-in-5s, but they both get to play the first one no later than Nov. 9, when legs are still fresh. Philadelphia and Denver don’t get that benefit.
No team could have asked for a worse schedule than the one Philadelphia received… well, with a single exception:
1 – PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
The Portland basketball team will blaze a trail, all right… a trail of misery and exhaustion and dead late-season legs. The Trail Blazers got hammered by this schedule, and what’s worse is that they did some of the hammering themselves.
All in all, the Blazers appear to be at fault for three of their four poorly handled weekend back-to-backs, meaning that the back-to-back originates at home and is under the team’s control (without apparent scheduling conflicts in its own arena).
That’s not all, though.
Beyond the Blazers’ control are two 4-in-5s, with both occurring after the All-Star break. No other NBA team bears that burden. The other four teams playing two 4-in-5s this season get to play the first 4-in-5 before the All-Star break.
Portland is also one of only two teams (New Orleans is the other) which must play a 4-in-5 entirely within the month of April.
The overall back-to-back count matches Philadelphia’s 19, so with all the other black marks on the schedule, the Blazers are clearly first… in the worst kind of way.