There’s a lot more to be said — and a lot more research to perform — on the twin topics that dominate NBA schedule releases at this point in the league’s existence: back-to-backs and 4-in-5s.
We’ll slowly unroll our examination of this topic, adding more details over a period of weeks, but let’s at least start to paint the picture of the 2015-2016 schedule, putting some colors on the canvas.
Making a schedule is both art and science, and it’s a very difficult thing to do in arena-based sports, since concerts and other events are booked in advance. Since teams do need to make effective road trips — it’s pointless to make an Eastern Conference team swing through Los Angeles in December to play the Clippers, and then in March to play the Lakers — schedulers have to pull off a very difficult dance. It’s true that schedulers don’t spend the rest of their year worrying about other tasks, only to whip out a grid in a couple of weeks — this is their job, after all — but when one realizes that television rights-holders expect marquee games to fit into certain days, and when one also realizes that college basketball tournaments force certain teams to leave their arenas for whole weeks — if not more — the difficulty of making a full league schedule becomes more apparent, and hopefully easier to appreciate.
Imbalances are going to exist in schedules. The NBA has worked hard to reduce them in the 2015-2016 slate, and should be given due credit as a result, but let’s see where some teams might have a little more of an advantage than others:
2015-2016 NBA SCHEDULE: BACK-TO-BACKS AND 4-IN-5s FOR EACH TEAM
ATLANTA: 19 back-to-backs (B2Bs), two 4-in-5s.
The 4-in-5s are Nov. 3-7 and Nov. 24-28. The piling together of two 4-in-5s in the same month is brutal, but the Hawks relied on depth last season to become the top seed in the East. The ability of Tiago Splitter to withstand November — playing effectively while not hurting himself — emerges as a primary point of emphasis for the Hawks. The good news about a loaded November is that Atlanta will have comparatively fewer B2Bs than most NBA teams starting in December.
BOSTON: B2Bs: 19. 4-in-5s: 1, from Jan. 12-16.
Any team that was handed two 4-in-5s got jobbed by this schedule. As long as a team had no more than one 4-in-5, it should be relatively grateful.
BROOKLYN: B2Bs: 15. 4-in-5s: 1, from March 28-April 1.
The relatively low number of B2Bs is something players will love. The late-season 4-in-5 is something the Nets will hate. Given the need to put tradeoffs into schedules, this mixture of realities isn’t particularly unfair. Consider the examples above: Atlanta did get saddled with two 4-in-5s, but they’re both very early in the season, when the team is a lot fresher. That’s a tradeoff as well. If a team got 19 B2Bs and late-season 4-in-5s, that would not be acceptable from a schedule maker’s perspective. Let’s see if we have such an example as we move forward with this first look at B2Bs and 4-in-5s.
CHARLOTTE: B2Bs: 16. 4-in-5s: none.
Measured by these two statistics alone, this is as friendly a schedule as NBA athletes could ever hope to receive.
CHICAGO: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: 1, from Jan. 11-15.
Slightly better than Boston’s schedule, and definitely one Derrick Rose should think highly of. Fred Hoiberg will be sure to rest Rose in at least one of those mid-January games, if not two.
CLEVELAND: B2Bs: 19. 4-in-5s: 1, Dec. 25-29.
This is when I get upset at the NBA. A 4-in-5 starting on Christmas Day? Please. Not necessary. Unforced error. In a perfect world, there would be no Christmas Day sports, but the realities of television and economics demand that there must be something. Fine — limit Christmas Day to two NBA games at 2:30 and 5 Eastern. Not five games and 10 teams. That’s ridiculous, making a third of the league work on Christmas.
DETROIT: B2Bs: 20. 4-in-5s: none.
Another perfect example of tradeoffs in a schedule. The first number is groan-inducing, the second one a very pleasant surprise for the Pistons.
INDIANA: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: none.
A team with this nickname should be able to keep up the Pace under these schedule conditions.
MIAMI: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: 1, Dec. 25-29.
At least Cleveland is playing its 4-in-5 as part of a Western swing. The Heat play on Christmas Day at home and then go on the road. No, we couldn’t allow the Heat to spend Christmas evening (after a 12:05 Eastern tip against New Orleans) relaxing with family and friends. The Heat will have to worry about traveling to their Dec. 26 game location.
MILWAUKEE: B2Bs: 20. 4-in-5s: 1, Jan. 12-16.
The young Bucks might be a team on the rise, but this schedule composition will test them. We know what the schedule is made of; now let’s see what the Bucks are made of.
NEW YORK: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: none.
This schedule release is #GOINK very well, actually.
ORLANDO: B2Bs: 19. 4-in-5s: 1, Nov. 3-7.
If you’re going to play a 4-in-5, have it in the first week and a half of the season. If the NBA wants to be even better on the 4-in-5 issue in future years and can’t fully eliminate the practice, the league should aim to pack all of them before Christmas — just go nuts with the 4-in-5s around the league, and then ease up once the calendar turns to the new year.
PHILADELPHIA: B2Bs: 19. 4-in-5s: 2, Dec. 10-14, March 17-21.
The late-season 4-in-5 is particularly brutal. Expect Team Tank to do its thing during that stretch.
TORONTO: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: 1, March 14-18.
The 17 back-to-backs does NOT refer to the number of Toronto Blue Jay wins… but it soon could, the way things are going. The Raptors will need to preserve their backcourt during that late-season 4-in-5.
WASHINGTON: B2Bs: 19. 4-in-5s: 1, Nov 24-28.
This is another well-balanced schedule: The B2B count is high, but there’s only one 4-in-5, and it arrives very early in the season.
DALLAS: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: 1, Nov. 10-14.
A team cannot complain too much about the arrangements Dallas has. (The Mavericks’ complaints concern a person by the name of DeAndre Jordan.)
DENVER: B2Bs: 16. 4-in-5s: 2, Nov. 26-30, March 27-31.
If you enjoy good NBA basketball, don’t watch that late-season 4-in-5 for the Nuggets.
GOLDEN STATE: B2Bs: 20. 4-in-5s: none.
At least the Warriors don’t have a 4-in-5, but they’ll be made to work a lot with the most B2Bs of any NBA team, alongside the next ones:
HOUSTON: B2Bs: 20. 4-in-5s: none.
L.A. CLIPPERS: B2Bs: 20. 4-in-5s: 1, March 27-31.
The most unfair schedule in the league? It’s certainly in the top three when measured solely by these two categories.
L.A. LAKERS: B2Bs: 18. 4-in-5s: 1, Nov. 28-Dec. 2
The 4-in-5 is early, but Kobe Bryant still can’t play too much during that stretch.
MEMPHIS: B2Bs: 18. 4-in-5s: none.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are loving the absence of 4-in-5s.
MINNESOTA: B2Bs: 14. 4-in-5s: 2, Nov. 9-13 and March 4-8.
The late-season 4-in-5 and the reality of having two 4-in-5s will not diminish this team’s enthusiasm over having to play just 14 B2Bs, the lowest total in the league. Other than those two five-day stretches, Minnesota will play just 10 B2Bs the entire season. How cool is that for an NBA roster?
NEW ORLEANS: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: 1, April 5-9.
Memo to the Pelicans: Be sure to lead the race for a playoff spot by at least three games before that very late 4-in-5.
OKLAHOMA CITY: B2Bs: 16. 4-in-5s: 1, Nov. 1-5.
Coach Billy Donovan will immediately be able to test his full roster in that very early 4-in-5. That might give the Thunder the ability to see which bench combinations work best.
PHOENIX: B2Bs: 14. 4-in-5s: 1, Dec. 30-Jan. 3
The Suns are tied with the T-Wolves for fewest B2Bs in the NBA this upcoming season.
PORTLAND: B2Bs: 19. 4-in-5s: 2, Feb. 27-March 2, April 2-6.
This joins the Clippers as one of the three worst schedules in the league. Philadelphia is probably the third team in the group.
SACRAMENTO: B2Bs: 19. 4-in-5s: 1, Nov. 3-7.
This is another example of reasonable balance, giving a team an unpleasant reality, followed by a comforting reality of no 4-in-5s after the first 10 days of the season.
SAN ANTONIO: B2Bs: 17. 4-in-5s: none.
You think the NBA hasn’t noticed Gregg Popovich’s penchant for resting his old guys in one end of a B2B?
UTAH: B2Bs: 18. 4-in-5s: 1, Jan. 6-10.
With no Dante Exum, the backcourt’s legs in that January 4-in-5 will be worth monitoring.