5 winners in the 2015-2016 NBA schedule

On Aug. 29, we gave you the five foremost losers in the 2015-2016 NBA schedule.

We now give you the five teams which benefited the most from the complexion of the schedule — not so much in terms of the arrangement of teams (that’s in many ways a separate point of focus), but the logistical structure of the schedule.

Stress, strain, irregular sleeping and eating hours — the more athletes can reduce these components of the 82-game grind, the better they’re likely to perform. Which teams should be doing cartwheels after seeing how their 82-game schedules were put together?

Here’s the list, with this piece serving as a central backgrounder.

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5 – DALLAS MAVERICKS

This is the one spot that was hard to arrive at. The top four are fairly clear-cut, but this one involved some juggling.

The Minnesota Timberwolves tied the Phoenix Suns for the fewest back-to-backs on this season’s schedule, with 14. Why are they not on the list, then? They are one of five teams that must play two 4-in-5s, but that’s not all — one of the 4-in-5s comes late in the season (March 4-8). That’s a unique burden to begin with.

Playing two 4-in-5s and having to play at least one of them late in the season puts the T-Wolves in an even smaller group. Only Portland, Philadelphia and Denver must do the same. (Atlanta, the fifth team with two 4-in-5s, gets to finish both of them before November is over.)

Another team with a generally favorable schedule is Oklahoma City. The Thunder have only 16 back-to-backs, and they get their only 4-in-5 out of the way early: Nov. 1-5. However, Oklahoma City scheduled three Sunday evening home games to start three different weekend back-to-backs in November. If Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook get injured in November, you might hear a lot more grumbling about how the Thunder’s schedule (at home) was put together.

Indiana has 17 back-to-backs and no 4-in-5s. The Pacers don’t make the cut, though, because of four poorly handled weekend back-to-backs. That’s one more than… Dallas, which has three.

The Mavericks narrowly edge out the Pacers and the Chicago Bulls (17 back-to-backs and one 4-in-5) because of the poorly handled weekend back-to-back issue (relative to Indiana), and because their 4-in-5 occurs in the middle of November, whereas Chicago’s 4-in-5 occurs in the middle of January. The earlier the 4-in-5, the better.

One more team worth mentioning here: The Brooklyn Nets have only 15 back-to-backs, but their 4-in-5 is from March 28-April 1. That’s brutal, and it could affect the race for the eighth playoff spot. Any 4-in-5 in late March or early April is, at least from this vantage point, a major negative element in a schedule.

Dallas’ schedule, while flawed in a few ways, has the fewest warts of a number of teams with 14-17 back-to-backs (which is at the lower end of the back-to-back spectrum this season).

4 – NEW YORK KNICKS

The Knicks have only two poorly-handled weekend back-to-backs. They play only 17 back-to-backs throughout the season, and they do not have to play a single 4-in-5, making them one of eight NBA teams to evade that particular chore. Among the other seven NBA teams which don’t have to play a 4-in-5, four others play more back-to-backs than the Knicks. One has the same number, but plays more poorly handled weekend back-to-backs (Indiana, with 17 back-to-backs but four poorly handled weekend back-to-backs).

The other two teams that don’t have to play a 4-in-5? They’re the next two teams on this list:

3 – SAN ANTONIO SPURS

The Spurs do have to play tough teams late in the season, and they always play their long “Rodeo Road Trip,” but the Spurs would have had to play those teams, anyway, and they always know they’re going on that long road trip in February. All in all, they can’t complain much about their schedule. They will play only 17 back-to-backs, just as the Knicks will, but the Spurs have no poorly handled weekend back-to-backs. Logistically, this is a fairly smooth ride for Gregg Popovich and his players.

Yet, two teams have an even smoother trip through the coming 82 games:

2 – CHARLOTTE HORNETS

The Hornets need help, and they received it from the schedule makers. The Hornets play only 16 back-to-backs. They do not have to play a single 4-in-5. They do not have any poorly handled weekend back-to-backs.

In many ways, a great NBA schedule is one in which you notice what’s not there, not what’s present. The lack of added back-to-backs, 4-in-5s, or noticeable time-slotting mistakes gives Charlotte’s roster a chance to properly rest and recover throughout the coming season. Only one team was dealt a better hand in the 2015-2016 schedule…

1 – PHOENIX SUNS

As mentioned above, the Minnesota Timberwolves also received just 14 back-to-backs, tied for the fewest in the league this upcoming season. However, the T-Wolves play two 4-in-5s, one of them later in the campaign. The Suns play 14 back-to-backs and only one 4-in-5, which starts before New Year’s Day.

The Suns are here not just because of the 14 back-to-backs, but because they lead the league in properly handled weekend back-to-backs, with five. Realize this about that last statistic: By getting five properly handled weekend back-to-backs within the larger batch of 14 overall back-to-backs, the Suns are getting over one-third of their back-to-backs with extra rest time. The Suns play only nine nighttime back-to-backs, meaning that on only nine occasions in 2015-2016, they’ll play a night game on the front end of a back-to-back, followed by another night game on the back end.

That is a sweet schedule — no one in the NBA can match it.

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |

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