Why the Phoenix Suns enjoy the league’s most favorable schedule this season

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.

  • BigAl

    Good analysis. I would have thought the opposite given the number of games we have played against the Lakers on our second game of a back to back scenario. It would have helped if you would have included the strength of the teams played in the back to back scenario. Playing back to back and the Lakers, Celts, Jazz, and Spurs is far different from the same against the Knicks, Hornets, or Pistons.

  • AnacondaHL

    BigAl – Ugh, I just knew someone would ask that, about strength of schedule. I figured that since previous attempts to look at NBA B2Bs included star players and top teams showing dips in performance, I thought it wouldn’t be fair to just apply the standard SOS formulas (that I’m not good with using anyways) without some unique adjustment for my analysis.

    Maybe next season then. =)

  • AnacondaHL

    Oh yea, I forgot to login to post.

    Also, I think there’s a general feeling that you can follow flight patterns when looking at B2Bs. The Suns could often play the Lakers on the second game, if flying down from Northern California/Oregon.

  • Jay Gordon

    I love this… I really hope they can steal at least one game in Florida. Suns are in good shape if they survive this stretch.

  • Steve

    This is great information. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jeremy

    That analysis is not “extensive.” If it were, it would consider *which* teams were being played on the second night of back-to-backs, and how often their opponents were on their second night of back-to-backs. Because, first of all, playing the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back is different than playing the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back. And the difficulty of winning a game doesn’t just depend on how tired you team is, but also on how tired the opponent is.

    I have no clue if considering such important factors would benefit the Suns or not, but it’s clear to me that this post is a conclusion in search of an analysis, rather than an analysis in search of a conclusion.

  • AnacondaHL

    Jeremy – Ugh. Once again. I didn’t want to apply some standard Strength of Schedule analysis when the base assumption is that performance is different on these games anyways.

    And besides, the second run through my macros includes win/loss records on B2Bs, so it actually IS “extensive” (to the point of your post), for prior seasons. If you’re such a clever guy, you may use that raw data to come up with your own adjustment for opponent strength.

    And I’m pretty sure my post concludes…wow it’s right in the post name…”the most favorable schedule this season”… but please feel free to throw more hyperbole my way.

  • Jeremy

    I guess your reading comprehension skills can use as much work as your statistics, because I don’t think you read anything I wrote. Two factors is not enough to conclude anything. Whether I do more analysis on my own is irrelevant–the point is that your two factors are insufficient to draw any conclusion about the difficulty of the Suns’ schedule.

    I stand by my statement that your post is nothing more than a conclusion in search of an analysis.

  • AnacondaHL

    “I guess your reading comprehension skills can use as much work as your statistics,”

    Good one!

    “because I don’t think you read anything I wrote.

    You’re not too bright then.

    “Two factors is not enough to conclude anything. Whether I do more analysis on my own is irrelevant–the point is that your two factors are insufficient to draw any conclusion about the difficulty of the Suns’ schedule.”

    Actually, it is. And actually, it’s not just two factors, it’s 19, if you had these mystical reading comprehension skills you speak of. I happened to summarize it into this post, becuase, well, that’s what people do to not lose the point in excess words and data.

    “I stand by my statement that your post is nothing more than a conclusion in search of an analysis.”

    Honestly, this describes your asinine comments more than my post. Pretty sure my conclusion arose from my analysis, and all my data is right there, it’s really not that difficult. Oh, maybe for you it is difficult, as my reading comprehension concluded you’re not too bright, sorry.