Here are some notes on the Celtics 2009-10 schedule that (hopefully) go beyond, “Hey, they play the Cavs in the first game!”:
1) The schedule is back-loaded with difficult games
This is the over-arching theme of the schedule. Though October and November are filled with games against average and decent teams (but not great ones), the real work comes in the second half of the season. Consider:
• The C’s play 13 games total against the other five teams one might consider title contenders–Cleveland, Orlando, San Antonio, Denver and the Lakers. Nine of those 13 games take place after the halfway point, including both match-ups with the Lakers and three of the four games against Cleveland.
• Of the Celtics 18 back-to-backs, 10 come in the second half of the season, including a Lakers-Portland double in mid-February and three back-to-backs in the last nine days of the team’s regular season. (That is not a typo).
• The Celtics play 19 road games against teams that had a .667 or better home winning percentage last season. I’d say these are the toughest wins to get in the NBA. Of those 19 games, 11 are in the second half, including a brutal four-day stretch from Feb. 18-21 in which the C’s play at the Lakers, Portland and Denver, and another set of three roadies in four days a month later, this time in Houston, Dallas and Utah. (Houston, of course, will not be the team they were last season, so that game will be less daunting).
If the Celtics are behind in the home-court race entering February, they will have tough time winning it.
2) The Celtics play an abnormally high percentage of their back-to-backs against teams that will be rested.
Last season, I looked at all the back-to-backs for the Eastern Conference teams and found that, on average, a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back will be facing an opponent in the same situation about half the time. In other words, if your team is tired from a game the night before, there’s a 50-50 chance their opponent is facing the same fatigue.
That is not the case for Boston this season, and it’s not even close. The C’s have 18 back-to-backs, and in only three of those 18 scenarios will they face a team on the second night that will also have played the night before.
That’s a five-to-one ratio, and it would have been the highest such ratio in the Eastern Conference last season; only Detroit (which faced a rested opponent in 12 of 16 back-to-backs) even came close.
(Side note on back-to-backs: There appear to be more of them overall next season than in ’08-09, though more analysis is needed to firm up that conclusion. Last year, just seven of the 15 Eastern Conference teams had 20 or more back-to-backs. Next season, 20 of the 30 NBA teams will play at least 20 back-to-backs, according to TrueHoop. Coincidence? An attempt to cut back on travel costs? One would have to examine how many of those back-to-backs really save the teams travel, since the NBA prefers not to have the same team host games on back-to-back days).
So it appears the C’s have a brutal schedule, right? An older team has to play its toughest games in February and March, and the C’s weary legs will have to slog through 15 back-to-backs against fresher teams.
Fear not. There are silver linings, after the jump.3) The C’s face mostly average or bad teams on the second night of back-to-backs.
Only five of the 18 games the C’s play on the back end of back-to-backs are against teams who made the playoffs last season. Five others come against the teams I’d consider the five doormats of the 2010 NBA (Minnesota, Milwaukee, Sacramento, New Jersey and the Grizz).
4) The C’s get more games against those doormats in the second half of the season.
As the elite teams come around more often, so do the worst of the worst. The C’s face Milwaukee and Memphis, for instance, in back-to-back games on March 9 and 10, right before a brutal six-game stretch that begins at Cleveland and finishes with the Houston-Dallas-Utah road stretch.
Two of Boston’s last three games of the season are against the Bucks, and the last six games look like this:
4/6 @ Knicks
4/7 @ Raptors
4/10 @ Bucks
4/13 @ Bulls
Those are all winnable games, though of course Chicago was good at home last season (28-13) and the Wizards could be a top five team in the East this season. But the Celtics, provided the legs can handle three late-season back-to-backs, will have a chance to make a strong finishing kick if they need or want to do so.
Other schedule thoughts:
• Easiest Five-Game Stretch: Probably either mid-December or early March. Pick a group of five from this slate of eight games between Dec. 4 and Dec. 22: @Thunder, Bucks, @Wizards, @Bulls, @Grizz, Sixers, T’Wolves, Pacers.
Or how about this streak from Feb. 27 until March 14, when the Hell Stretch starts at Cleveland? We’ve got: Nets, @Pistons, Bobcats, @Sixers, Wizards, @Bucks, Grizzlies, Pacers.
• Toughest Stretch: How about these nine games from March 14-24: @Cavs, Pistons, Knicks, @Rockets, @Mavs, @Jazz, Nuggets, Kings, Spurs. If you’re into sticking to the five-game limit, pick your five-game poison from that group.
Or take this stretch from Feb. 7-Feb. 25th: Magic, @Hornets, @Kings, @Lakers, @Portland, @Denver, Knicks, Cavs.
• Longest Road Trip: That five-game roadie right up there, starting with the Hornets game on Feb. 10th. The C’s have two other four-game trips.
• Longest Home Stand: This six-gamer from March 24-April 4: Nuggets, Kings, Spurs, Thunder, Rockets, Cavs.
It’s great fun to look at the season from a macro-level like this–I even toyed with the idea of predicting every game, and still might do so–but the reality is that this is, for the most part, a meaningless exercise. Every team is going to have scheduling difficulties, and they will (mostly) even out in the end.
Think of it like this: Kevin Garnett’s right knee will have more of an impact on the Celtics season than every quirk in every team’s schedule combined.