Even math agrees the late-January-February stretch is brutal.
The NBA released the full schedules for all 82 teams Friday afternoon, and believe it or not, the Sixers will play some teams other than the Boston Celtics this season. While every year consists of 41 games at home and 41 away (the odd, occasional London trip aside), there are ebbs and flows to each particular campaign worthy of closer examination. As calculated by NBA.com’s John Schuhmann, Philadelphia actually has the easiest schedule in the league this season:
& here’s the # of back-to-backs (& games vs. opp. playing 2nd game of a b2b) & rest advantage games for every team this season. pic.twitter.com/TGDSOuVEIt
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) August 10, 2018
The Sixers have a below average number of back-to-backs with 13, while opponents will be on the second game of a back-to-back 17 times. Brett Brown’s squad also has a decided advantage in rest advantage games. Plus, as pointed out by our Adam Aaronson, the four teams the Sixers will only play three times are all above average opponents, which favors Philadelphia.
Each year, there are four teams in your conference who you play three times instead of four. You’d obviously prefer that these are good teams. Last year for the Sixers, it was ATL, CHI, IND, and ORL- an unlucky draw.
This year, the four teams are: MIL, WAS, MIA, CLE.
— Adam (@SixersAdam) August 10, 2018
Even amidst what is statistically an easier schedule, Philadelphia will still have its difficult stretches to battle through on the way to a (presumed) return to the playoffs. To get a better picture of the most difficult (and easiest) parts of the schedule for the Sixers in 2018-19, I calculated rolling 5 game averages for their opponents’ winning percentages across the entire season (e.g.: Game 3’s rolling average would be the average of the opponents’ winning percentages for Games 1-5, Game 4 would be Games 2-6, etc.). Projected winning percentages were formulated using the opening win totals released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook.
Ideally, we would also factor in how each team would perform at home or on the road, and also calculate how different rest situations affect the chances to win, but looking at the winning percentages in a vacuum should still give us a good idea of what areas on the schedule will be particular slogs for our boys in red, white, and blue. The charts below were separated by pre-and-post-All-Star break for easier viewing.
The numbers support what everyone immediately noticed when the schedule dropped – that stretch from mid-January through February is an absolute killer. The rolling average rises above .500 heading into the January 17th game at Indiana, and doesn’t fall back below it until after the March 6th game in Chicago.
The absolute toughest point of the season is the January 26th road game in Denver. Not only will the Sixers have to contend with the Mile High altitude, but it’s the only point during the year when the rolling average rises above .600. Along with the Nuggets, that five-game stretch includes the Rockets, Spurs, Lakers, and Warriors. Philadelphia could easily be playing five Western Conference playoff teams back-to-back, which is basically like trying to fight through the latter stages of a Mortal Kombat tournament.
Aside from that prolonged mid-season stretch, the only other time the rolling average climbs above the .500 mark for more than one brief moment comes in late December, when the Sixers face the Raptors, Celtics, Jazz, Blazers, and Clippers in succession. While not quite as fiercesome as the previously mentioned run in January, the Sixers will be facing the other top two teams in the Eastern Conference, along with three Western Conference teams who are all at least trying to make the playoffs.
Fortunately, like Newton’s third law of motion, what goes up must come down when it comes to the NBA schedule. The Sixers begin and end their season with fairly easy stretches of games. The final 10 games of the season, in particular, should offer a chance for Philadelphia to make a real push in the standings, as Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Miami (the Killer M’s!) represent the only likely playoff teams in the bunch. Another huge winning streak to conclude the regular season would make for a fun spring in Philadelphia.
Ultimately though, the wizards at Westgate aren’t infallible, and Vegas isn’t actually all-knowing (although it often seems that way). Injuries will pop up, teams will gel in unexpected ways, and stretches that looked easy in August may prove more challenging than anticipated, and vice versa. All the Sixers can do is show up and compete each and every night they take the court. It’s fun to calculate rolling five game averages, but the only math that truly matters is on the scoreboard.