Basketball is coming back, about a month behind schedule. The NBA announced their regular season schedule today and, unlike in recent seasons, decided not to screw the Rockets badly. Since I can’t wait for the season to begin, I’m going to go ahead and break down their schedule to get an idea of what we can look forward to.
The Rockets will play 18 games against the Eastern Conference and 48 against the Western Conference. They play every team in the Eastern Conference once or twice and every team in their conference either three or four times. Looking at the Eastern Conference, they play the teams that made the playoffs last year only once each. That means only one game against the Heat, the Bulls, the Celtics, the Knicks, etc. This should be awesome. It’s a good year to be a bad team. The Lakers, for example, will have the Heat on their plate twice, as will the Mavericks. The three teams that the Rockets do play twice from the East are the Bobcats, the Wizards and the Raptors. These three teams scrounged up 79 wins between them last season.
On the Western Conference, though, things are a little tougher. Of the eight teams that finished above the Rockets last year, they play half of them four times, this season: the Spurs, the Thunder, the Nuggets and the Grizzlies. I am completely okay with that. The Nuggets is missing about half their team (although most of them should be back the last two times Houston play them), the Spurs are aging and the Grizzlies have to hold on to their contracts to remain competitive. The Thunder are scary, but the team will be done with them mid-March, which means they won’t be a nuisance when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.
Opponent Winning Percentage from Last Season
Against the Eastern Conference, the average record of the Rockets’ opponents is .446. That translates to about 37 games over the course of a season. Very manageable. The same metric on the Western Conference is 0.532, which translates to 44 games won. 2 games above .500 while playing 16 games against teams with a better record than Houston last season? I’ll take it. Their overall opponent record weighs in at .508 (42 games). This happens to be just about their record last year, so Houston should be good to go.
Back-to-backs have been the bane of the Rockets’ existence and this season the NBA is introducing something even more nasty: the back-to-back-to-back. The NBA announced yesterday that 7 teams would be playing more than one back-to-back-to-back this season. I was sure one of the lucky ones would be Houston. However, the league decided to be kind, this year.
The Rockets play 1 back-to-back-to-back affair and 21 back-to-backs. The toughest sequence is at the beginning, when Houston takes on San Antonio, Memphis and Atlanta in the last three days of 2011. The first and last of this sequence will be hosted at the Toyota Center, so at least that is some respite. The other back-to-backs are mostly harmless, although they do feature two bizarre sets where they play OKC and Denver home-and-away on back-to-back nights. I guess neither team has the advantage there…
30 of the Rockets games come after a 1-day rest, seven are after a 2-day rest, two are after a 3-day rest and they even have a 5-day rest, presumably coinciding with All Star Weekend.
Houston will have 7 games on “national TV”. The reason for the quotes are that all these games will be on NBA TV. Yup. Not a single game on ABC, ESPN or TNT. I guess I shouldn’t be too annoyed because this implies that they are going to be playing relatively weak teams. The national TV games are against the Magic, the Clippers, the Blazers, the Mavs, the Lakers, the Kings and the Heat.
In terms of stretches, the schedule-makers have been kind, as well. Of the 33 away games, 9 will be played in 1-game segments (a lot of travel, I guess). 3 will be played in two-game road trips and they will have four road trips longer than two games, the longest being a 6-game trip trek of the West in early February. The home split is pretty similar, with 8 single-game homestands, three 2-game homestands and four homestands longer than that. The 6-game homestand, the longest of the season, will be right after the Rockets finish their 6-game road trip.
Schedule-wise, the Rockets have a relatively easy one, which is a nice side-effect of being a mediocre team in a short season in a league that is operated by a greedy commissioner. The beginning of the season is tough but it does settle down pretty nicely. If the Rockets end up struggling, it will be because of poor coaching, poor execution or badly thought-out trades (or bad refereeing). The schedule has been kind to them. Let’s hope they can make it back to the playoffs, finally.