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August 5, 2009
The New NBA Schedule
Highlights

by Bradford Doolittle

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The NBA released its 2009-10 schedule on Tuesday, a sure sign that summer is creeping along towards the fall. With the Royals in the toilet yet again, NBA camps can't start soon enough for me. Most of the stories that emerge from Schedule Day center around the holiday matchups. Shaq vs. Kobe. Or, this year, LeBron-o-Shaq vs. Kobe. Of course, we like to be a little more in-depth than that at Prospectus headquarters, so let's see if we can do a more thorough breakdown of the 1,230-game slate.

Just before last season began, I ran some numbers to look at strength-of-schedule factors for each team, using final 2007-08 records as my baseline. I've done the same with the new schedule, only instead of plugging in last year's records, I've used the current projected records my system, NBAPET, is spitting out based on rosters as of today. Hopefully, that will give us a little bit more of an indication of which teams face tough roads and which don't.

We should also be able to get an indication of which conference appears to be stronger. In the recent past, Western Conference teams have tended to have slates with a higher degree of difficulty because that conference has been much stronger than the East has been. Last season, that gap more or less disappeared. Of course, that depends on how you want to look at the issue. The East won more games head-to-head, but the heavily-stratified West had more good teams.

Without further ado:

No  Team       OppW  OppL  Opp%  Conf  sW
01  Grizzlies  3502  3222  .521  W   42.7
02  Clippers   3492  3232  .519  W   42.6
03  T-wolves   3444  3280  .512  W   42.0
04  Warriors   3442  3282  .512  W   42.0
05  Kings      3441  3283  .512  W   42.0
06  Thunder    3440  3284  .512  W   42.0
07  Suns       3430  3294  .510  W   41.8
08  Nuggets    3419  3305  .508  W   41.7
09  Wizards    3418  3306  .508  E   41.7
10  Hornets    3410  3314  .507  W   41.6
11  Knicks     3401  3323  .506  E   41.5
12  Bucks      3395  3329  .505  E   41.4
13  Rockets    3393  3331  .505  W   41.4
14  Mavericks  3377  3347  .502  W   41.2
15  Hawks      3368  3356  .501  E   41.1
16  Pacers     3367  3357  .501  E   41.1
17  Blazers    3357  3367  .499  W   40.9
18  Heat       3347  3377  .498  E   40.8
19  Jazz       3332  3392  .496  W   40.6
20  Raptors    3330  3394  .495  E   40.6
21  Lakers     3329  3395  .495  W   40.6
21  76ers      3329  3395  .495  E   40.6
23  Spurs      3304  3420  .491  W   40.3
24  Bulls      3282  3442  .488  E   40.0
25  Nets       3279  3445  .488  E   40.0
26  Pistons    3277  3447  .487  E   40.0
27  Celtics    3261  3463  .485  E   39.8
28  Magic      3237  3487  .481  E   39.5
29  Bobcats    3234  3490  .481  E   39.4
30  Cavaliers  3223  3501  .479  E   39.3

In many ways, the rankings are very similar to last year's preseason numbers despite the difference in methodology. The Grizzlies grade out with the toughest slate for the second straight year, the penalty for sharing a division with the Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks and Hornets. A number of Western Conference teams cluster at the top; conversely Eastern teams dominate the bottom.

The column on the right (sW) indicates what I'll call Schedule Wins. It expresses SOS in terms of wins under the assumption a team is of average quality. So from top (Grizzlies) to bottom (Cavaliers), scheduling factors account for a 3.4-win variation, and that's at the extremes. In the end, the schedule doesn't have a huge impact on an NBA team's final record. However, it's useful to track SOS through the season because it takes a while for all of this to even out and we want to keep an eye out for teams that have had unusual degrees of difficulty (or lack thereof) early in the season.

According to these numbers, the West has regained the upper hand, if only so slightly:

CONF.  PCT  AvgW
East  .493  40.4
West  .507  41.6

Measuring the average wins for each team in a conference isn't the best way to account for the relative strength of the group, but it'll do as an indicator. When we look back at the last few years, we see that it tells a pretty accurate story.

YEAR     EAST  WEST
2008-09 41.4 40.6
2007-08 38.8 43.2
2006-07 38.9 43.1
2005-06 39.2 42.8
2004-05 38.9 43.1

Let's move on and highlight some of the best games on the '09-10 schedule. Believe it or not, I have a rating for this as well. For each game, I add 3.4 points to the home team's efficiency margin, then average that with the road team's figure. (Quality of teams playing.) Then I subtract the absolute value of the difference between the margins. (Competitiveness of the teams involved.) Finally, I add a small fraction depending upon the date, under the guise that the later a game takes place in the season, the greater the import. This is a small adjustment, but helps to break ties. After that, I can rank each of the 1,230 games in order of quality. Or something like that.

Instead of previewing all 1,230 contests, I'll just list the top 25. As you might expect, the list is dominated by the projected power teams, in particular the Spurs, whom NBAPET has pegged as the odds-on favorite to win next season's title. Mark your calendars.

1. Spurs at Cavaliers (March 8)
2. Spurs at Trail Blazers (Feb. 4)
3. Spurs at Trail Blazers (Nov. 6)
4. Spurs at Celtics (March 28)
5. Spurs at Jazz (Dec. 7)
6. Spurs at Jazz (Nov. 5)
7. Celtics at Rockets (March 19)
8. Trail Blazers at Rockets (Jan. 29)
9. Cavaliers at Rockets (Dec. 9)
10. Celtics at Magic (Jan. 28)
11. Trail Blazers at Rockets (Dec. 31)
12. Celtics at Magic (Dec. 25)
13. Trail Blazers at Lakers (April 11)
14. Cavaliers at Magic (Feb. 21)
15. Celtics at Pistons (March 2)
16. Trail Blazers at Magic (Dec. 19)
17. Jazz at Pistons (March 10)
18. Cavaliers at Lakers (Dec. 25)
19. Celtics at Pistons (Jan. 20)
20. Cavaliers at Magic (Nov. 11)
21. Spurs at Lakers (Apr. 4)
22. Cavaliers at Pistons (March 16)
23. Jazz at Rockets (April 7)
24. Jazz at Magic (Dec. 21)
25. Spurs at Lakers (Feb. 8)

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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