Every NBA team will have at least one gnarly stretch of schedule this season. SB Nation's NBA bloggers give you some advance warning of when those will come.
When the NBA released the truncated 2011-12 schedule in early December, SB Nation's NBA bloggers immediately looked at their teams' calendars to work up a good sense of outrage at the feats of stamina to be performed.
As a service to all readers, we asked those bloggers to send over their take on the most brutal stretch of their team's schedule. Here are all the responses we received, broken down loosely by month.
I hate to give the conspiracy theorists more ammunition, but there's no way around it ... the Lakers schedule is gloriously lacking in particularly difficult situations. I'm hard pressed to find any situation to deal with more difficult than the fact that the Lakers must play their first 5 (Andrew Bynum-less) games over a stretch of 7 days, including their only B2B2B, to start off the season, but 4 of those 5 games at home, and only Chicago is a top notch opponent.
The 6-game Grammy roadie is tame in terms of opponents and spacing, there's a B2B B2B B2B stretch but 4 of those games are at home and none are against top notch competition, and the only stretch of schedule that combines tough opponents and even moderately rough circumstances is the following: Feb. 19 at Phoenix, Feb. 20 vs. Portland, Feb. 22 at Dallas, Feb. 23 at Oklahoma City.
And if the Lakers flip Bynum as part of any deal for Paul or Howard? Then it becomes tough to even tell the difference between this year's schedule and any other year's. Sorry guys.
Oh no, we're sorry.
The Nets start the season with six games in eight days. Four of the six are on the road, and the two home games are each the second night of a back-to-back against a playoff team (Atlanta and Indiana).
For the Thunder, it looks like the league wants to test them early. 12 of the Thunder's first 14 games are against playoff teams from last season, starting on Christmas Day (Magic) and running through Jan. 16 (Celtics).
While they have a good shot of starting the season 3-0 (at Charlotte, vs. Minnesota, vs. Washington), the Bucks play 12 of the first 18 games on the road including a seven-day, five-game Western road trip to open January. That trip will see them visiting the Nuggets, Jazz, Kings, Clippers and Suns, though it could have been worse. Their original schedule featured 12 of 16 road games in the month of January, whereas the revised calendar features "just" 11 of 17. The latter also spares them originally planned January visits to Orlando, Oklahoma City and New Orleans -- nice places to visit in the winter, but less so if it involves playing NBA basketball.
The Bobcats face a particularly difficult stretch of games between January 3 and January 17, not so much in consistent quality of their opponents, but due to exhaustion. In those 15 days, the Bobcats play only back-to-backs and have one back-to-back-to-back, for a total of 11 games. Six of those games are against 2011 playoff teams: Knicks (twice), Hawks (twice), Pacers and Magic. Six games are away, including four away games against the aforementioned playoff teams. Tyrus Thomas and DeSagana Diop may die.
The calendar won't be kind to the Kings early. By the time the All-Star break hits in late February, the Kings will have played 11 games at home and 21 on the road.
Raptors play 19 games in 31 days in January, most against teams that made playoffs last year, or are expected to this season. As well, the club's lone B2B2B series is in that month, and 12 of the 19 games are on the road.
Happy 2011-12 season Raptors' fans!
The Hawks play Miami and Chicago twice each in a 5-day stretch in early January. A fun, instant litmus test of the team ... unless you have to play through it with an 8-man team, which the depth-challenged Hawks will have to do.
Then, at the end of the month, we embark on an interesting roadie that will be sure to maximize the team's frequent flyer mileage. First off to Wisconsin to play the Bucks, then down to Texas for the Spurs (where the Hawks seldom, if ever, win), then back north to Michigan for the Pistons, back down to the Bayou for the Hornets, and finally back north to Canada to wrap the month in Toronto. I don't care if the Hornets or Raptors are winless when the Hawks roll in, I'm exhausted just picturing the Indiana Jones like map trail going back and forth, from north to south, in the road trip ... those will be tough games no matter what.
Here's a brutal 5-game stretch for the Suns, spanning a little over a week: Jan. 15 at San Antonio, Jan. 17 at Chicago, Jan. 18 at New York, Jan. 20 at Boston, Jan. 23 at Dallas
Only one back to back in there, but a road trip against five top-notch playoff teams. I'd be OK with the Suns winning one of those games, thrilled with taking two and not totally surprised to get swept.
The Pacers play 15 of their first 22 games on the road with the worst stretch of games coming toward the end of January. They play the Lakers in the last game of their only West Coast swing, then have a day off before hosting Orlando, then hit the road the next day to play at Chicago, Boston and Orlando over the next five days.
Bulls have a 2-week, 9-game road trip starting the end of January: January 29 at Heat, January 30 at Wizards, February 1 at Sixers, February 2 at Knicks, February 4 at Bucks, February 6 at Nets, February 8 at Hornets, February 10 at Bobcats, February 12 at Celtics.
Luckily there are some bad teams in there, but still.
For the Sixers, this six-game in nine-night stretch is probably the worst: January 30 vs. Magic, February 1 vs. Bulls, February 3 vs. Heat, February 4 at Hawks, February 6 vs. Lakers, February 8 vs. Spurs.
Worst stretch I see is the beginning of February: Seven games in 10 days with a silly amount of back-and-forth traveling. February begins with the Knicks' only back-to-back-to-back, a pair of home games against the Bulls and Nets with a day trip to Boston sandwiched in between. After facing the Jazz in New York and Wizards in Washington, they'll finish the stretch with a back-to-back at home against the Lakers on the 10th and in Minnesota the next night.
Six games in eight days from February 14th through the 21st. Home vs. WAS on the 14th, at GSW on the 15th, home vs. LAC on the 16th, home vs. ATL on the 18th, at LAL on the 20th, home vs. SAS on the 21st.
Then, of course, they get seven days straight with no games. PLAY PLAY PLAY PLAY PLAY ... stop! Now go away and come back in a week. Stupid All-Star Break.
Portland also has a 5-game-in-8-night spree starting on New Year's Day where they'll have to travel between every single one of the games. They'll either be on the court or on a plane.
I'd say this is a rough stretch: March 5 at Oklahoma City, March 6 vs. New York, March 8 at Phoenix, March 9 at Sacramento and March 10 at Golden State. A back-to-back followed by a back-to-back-to-back on the road. I know there's a day in between, but COME ON. Jason Kidd is going to need that cryochamber something FIERCE.
The Celtics have a West coast road trip that swings back East in March. In fact, it takes up most of March and features three separate back-to-backs and a total of eight games in 12 days before they can taste home cooking again.
Matt Watson of Detroit Bad Boys notes that the Pistons pointed out their own dastardly stretch in a press release announcing the revamped schedule:
The Pistons have an extended road stretch from March 12 through March 30 where the club plays nine of 10 games on the road. Detroit embarks on a five-game road trip, its longest of the season, on March 12 visiting Utah, Sacramento (March 14), Phoenix (March 16), the L.A. Clippers (March 18) and Denver Nuggets (March 21). Following a brief home stop against the Miami HEAT at The Palace on Friday, March 23, the team heads back on the road for a four-game road trip stopping in New York (March 24), Washington (March 26), Cleveland (March 28) and Chicago (March 30).
Can anyone beat 9 games in 12 days? Clippers go B2B-off-B2B-off-B2B-off-B2B2B from March 11 to March 22. Actually, with 20 games in the month, all of March is pretty absurd.
The first 6 are at home, followed by a road B2B2B - IND-OKC-NOH - so there's significant travel for each of them. Those last 3 look like schedule losses right now. Just write them down.
Things only get tougher for the Denver Nuggets as the season wears on. From Nate Timmons of Denver Stiffs:
Really hoping the Nuggets head into the final 19 games of the season (March 23-April 26) with a comfortable hold on a playoff spot. Starting March 23 the Nuggets embark on a seven-game roadtrip in 10 days. Of the final 19 games, 13 will be on the road with only six home dates (with just one two game "homestand"). And to top it all off, there are five back-to-back sets during those final 19 games!
I hope the Nuggets can field enough players to run two strong sets of five players so they can get some rest on the court. Denver will be lucky to go 9-10 during that stretch to end the season.
The Warriors will have a stretch of 11 games in 15 nights that includes four back-to-backs and finishes with a road trip that goes L.A.-Memphis-Minnesota in four nights.
As a final death blow to their playoff hopes -- which Mark Jackson and new ownership tell us are real -- they finish the season with six games in nine days and a road B2B2B, in addition to the pressure of Charles Barkley noting that the W's are turrrible twice.
The Cavaliers have a stretch of eight games in 11 nights from April 13 to the 23rd, including a back-to-back-to-back to start that stretch.
The Grizz begin their only back-to-back-to-back on April 2nd at Oklahoma City, then go home to face Golden State on the 3rd, wrapping up in Dallas on the 4th. Then, April 6th, they go to Miami and face the Mavs again at home on the 7th. A few days following, April 11, they begin two stretches of four games in five days. The first goes like this: vs. Phoenix, at San Antonio, vs. Utah, at New Orleans. The second, after an off day, goes at Minny, vs. New Orleans, at Charlotte and home with Portland.
Lots o' tough games coming down to the end of the regular season.
Finally someone who can match/beat the Spurs' stretch! Or should I say stretches since there's San Antonio Rodeo Road Trip with 9 roadies over 17 days, but let's just put that one aside since it's pretty much the same story as every year, and the Spurs have historically performed quite well on their RRT.
No, let's consider the month April (or more specifically, the semi-month of April, since the season ends on the 26th) to see the toughest stretch. With an aging group playing more frequently than anyone but Duncan ever has, while they can't beat the Clippers' .750 pace (9 in 12) they do have 9 in 13, make that 11 in 16, actually it's 13 in 19, you know what, every game they play in the whole month of April (from the 3rd to the 26th) is 16 games in 24 days. Now that's only a .667 playing average, but it's sustained for so long.