Hello Valley of the Suns readers! My buddy Michael Schwartz asked me to cook up a guest post for this blog since I had done some recent analysis on NBA scheduling. The Phoenix Suns have embarked on a fairly brutal four games in five days stretch, starting with the Lakers on Sunday (although they have done pretty well thus far). Here’s the schedule:
Sun Nov 14th — @ LA Lakers
Mon Nov 15th — vs Denver Nuggets
Wed Nov 17th — @ Miami Heat
Thu Nov 18th — @ Orlando Magic
Not exactly the news a team still trying to fit together really wants to hear. (Or a team that needs to log more hours into the new Call of Duty). Throw in the game vs Sacramento on Friday and an additional game on the 20th at Charlotte for six games in nine days, and it would seem like the NBA schedule maker had a beef with the Suns. (And yes, according to this interview, it is just one guy and a modest computer program who’s been making the schedule for the past 25 years).
Well hold off on that knee-jerk reaction. In curiosity of how good or fair the NBA schedule is, and at the request of literally one reader, I did an extensive analysis of the 2010-11 NBA schedule, and later, an analysis on the NBA schedule since the 1999-00 season. As it turns out, this stretch is the only four games in five days that the Suns will play the entire season. The story’s not so good for the Wizards, Cavaliers, Bobcats, Bucks, and 76ers, who each have four fourth games in five days.
So far so good. But how many back-to-backs do the Suns play this season? And since I was playing with all the numbers anyways, why not additionally ask “how many times do the Phoenix Suns play against teams on their back-to-back, especially while the Suns are rested?” Again as it turns out, the Suns only have 16 back-to-backs in the 2010-11 season, second lowest only to the Lakers, who have 15. From the above interview and verified by my analysis, typically teams don’t get more than 23 back to backs. On the flipside, the Suns play against 23 opponents on their 2nd game of a back-to-back, while the Lakers only get 10 and the Cavaliers get a whopping league-leading 28 games.
But what’s even more interesting, and what’s missing from previous schedule analysis, is that the Suns will play a league-leading 20 games against opponents on their second game of a back to back while the Suns are rested! In this case compared to above, the Cavs only get 16 games and the Lakers get nine. Considering that the league average is 13 games and the lowest goes to the Knicks with only six games rested against tired second game opponents, and it looks like the Suns hit the scheduling jackpot this year.
Even further, this story extends backwards with fair consistency (since 1999 of course). The Suns typically have less back-to-backs and face more opponents on their back-to-backs while rested compared to the league average. Perhaps ironically, Mark Cuban’s Mavericks have had a near-average schedule. And the Lakers? Along with the Knicks they typically face far fewer second game opponents.
In the end, there’s not really too much to complain about in terms of game scheduling. Games against tired opponents could be more balanced across the league, but that hasn’t stopped the Lakers from winning five championships with seven Finals appearances in the past decade.
While there are plenty of things to critique about this new-look Suns team, and perhaps a scapegoat to define, blaming the back-to-backs on the schedule is just not a valid conclusion. It was going to be a “nobody believed in us”-or-bust season again for the Suns anyways, so with nothing to lose and (in my humble opinion) the most favorable schedule in the NBA, the Suns have a shining chance to exceed expectations once again.
AnacondaHL is an Arizona native and a Suns apologist, who through some circumstances knew Michael Schwartz in the olden days. While not spending time at his Clark Kent job, he can be found contributing to the Basketbawful blog, or in general wasting time elsewhere on the Internet.