After more than four long months, the suspended 2019-20 NBA season will resume with an opening night matchup between the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.
Each of the 22 teams chosen to participate in the unprecedented Walt Disney World bubble will play eight games to determine their final playoff seeding.
The opportunity gives those on the cusp of making a postseason appearance one last shot at getting in. Once finalized, the 2020 NBA Playoffs will be played as they traditionally are and a champion will be crowned in October.
These final eight games will be crucial for teams and stakes will be as high as ever. Not only will they be fighting for the final playoff spots, but with how tight the conference standings are, certain teams can still move up or down more than three spots in the standings. For this reason, the strength of schedule for each of the 22 teams is extremely important.
There are certainly many factors that come into play when looking at how difficult a team’s schedule is, but purely based on cumulative opponent win percentage to this point in the season, let’s see who has the easiest schedules.
1. New Orleans Pelicans (.495)
The team with the easiest remaining schedule is New Orleans, who play six of their eight remaining games against sub-.500 opponents. They are also the only team that has a cumulative opponent win percentage under .500. Still 3.5 games out of the playoff picture, not only will New Orleans have to take advantage of this relatively easy schedule, they will have to rely on other teams fighting for the final playoff spot to perform poorly. Although there are many moving parts, the Pelicans may have the best chance of anyone to steal the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference from the Grizzlies due to their schedule.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (.506)
Over half of Philadelphia’s remaining opponents have a losing record. For a team that is only two games out of the No. 4 seed in the East, having one of the NBA’s easiest schedules going forward is a huge advantage. Their potential playoff opponents and how they match up would vary quite a bit based on where they land in the final standings.
3. Sacramento Kings (.529)
The Sacramento King haven’t fared quite as well as some hoped this season. Nonetheless, they still have one last chance to change that narrative and make the playoffs, even if it is unlikely. The Kings are currently 3.5 games out of a playoff spot but will have the luxury of playing five of their eight games against teams that are under .500 on the season.
4. Brooklyn Nets (.544)
Not only will the Nets be without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in Orlando due to injury, but they’ll also be missing DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and a number of others due to health concerns related to the current pandemic. While they will likely be heavy underdogs in any first round series they participate in, they do have a manageable remaining regular season schedule. Their first two games will be against the Magic and Wizards, who are both below them in the Eastern Conference standings.
T-5. Boston Celtics (.550)
Although Boston has a pretty difficult start to their schedule, four of their final five games are against teams with a losing record. With the amount of talent the Celtics have, this means they should finish out the regular season on a very positive note. Of the teams with a top-five easiest schedule, Boston is one of the best based on their current record. Jayson Tatum, who was looking like a superstar before the season was paused, will be exciting to watch the rest of the season.
T-5. L.A. Clippers (.550)
On opening night in Orlando, the Clippers have a highly anticipated matchup against the Lakers. After that, they have five straight games against teams they should have no trouble with, followed by Denver and Oklahoma City to round out their schedule. The Clippers do have a chance to move up to the top spot in the West and could even slide down to the No. 3 seed, but it seems likely they will finish out where they are now at the No. 2 spot. A fully healthy and rested Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is scary for opposing teams going forward.
7. Orlando Magic (.551)
The Magic will be playing in Orlando like they have many times this season, only now it will be in a different stadium roughly 20 miles southwest of their home court. Orlando will have a touch stretch of Indiana, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Boston in the middle of their schedule, but have a manageable start and finish. Although they have a losing record, they still sit comfortably in the playoffs and would have to have an extremely poor outing to lose that spot.
8. Dallas Mavericks (.555)
Dallas is a team that started off hot but has fallen off more recently. With a fully healthy Luka Doncic and more time for Kristaps Porzingis to get his knee strengthened, the Mavericks will be a dangerous team heading to Orlando. One advantage on the schedule for Dallas is that they will get to play the Suns twice in eight games, who will be without Kelly Oubre.
9. Utah Jazz (.556)
The Jazz are one of the most intriguing teams heading into the bubble. Considering Rudy Gobert was the main domino that fell prior to the league shutdown and the locker room drama that came with it, all eyes will be on them as they play in the first NBA game in over four months. The Jazz will matchup against the short-handed Spurs twice in the restart, which should play out in their favor. Utah will be without their second leading scorer on the season in Bojan Bogdanovic due to a season ending surgery.
10. Indiana Pacers (.562)
Indiana is currently two games behind Miami for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. Luckily for them, they play the Heat twice in eight games and will have every opportunity to make a run at that spot prior to the playoffs. With questions surrounding Victor Oladipo given his uncertainty about playing in the restart, it is hard to predict how good this Pacers roster will be.
11. San Antonio Spurs (.567)
It’s tough to see the Spurs make much noise at Disney World with their star big man LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined after season-ending shoulder surgery. On top of this, their schedule only gets gradually tougher as they go. After matching up against Sacramento and Memphis in their first two games, five of their final six games are against teams who have already locked up a playoff spot.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (.573)
As the best team in the NBA this season, the Bucks have quite a few decisions to make in the final eight games of the regular season. Being 6.5 games ahead of Toronto for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, they don’t necessarily have to play their best players all that much. With that being said, would they prefer to utilize their regular rotations to rebuild chemistry and knock off some rust? Seven of their eight games are against teams who currently hold a playoff spot.
13. Washington Wizards (.578)
While five teams in the Western Conference are getting a chance to earn a postseason spot that aren’t currently in the playoff picture, the Wizards are the only team from the Eastern Conference that are getting this opportunity. With that being said, they currently sit 5.5 games back of the Magic for the final playoff spot. It would take everything going their way to earn that No. 8 seed in the East but it is not impossible. It does not help that Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans will not be competing with the team at Disney World.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (.583)
Every team has one back-to-back during these final eight games, but Oklahoma City might have the easiest of any. They will play Washington on the first night and Phoenix on the second night of their scheduled back-to-back. The Thunder have struggled against the eight teams they will match up with, going just 6-10 against them to this point in the season. Behind Chris Paul, the Thunder have shocked the world with their play thus far in the 2019-20 season.
15. Houston Rockets (.587)
Houston will look to continue their small-ball style of play in Orlando and with the way they like to play, this long rest and reset might actually benefit them. Although they are the No. 6 seed as of now, they’re only 2.5 games back of the No. 3 seed in a tight Western Conference race. Their schedule will do them no favors as they only play three teams with a losing record and will also play both the Lakers and the Bucks over the final eight games.
16. Phoenix Suns (.589)
Of all of the Western Conference teams heading to Orlando, the Suns have the worst record of all and are a full six games back of the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed. Combine that with an injury to one of their best players in Kelly Oubre, Phoenix could be eliminated from the playoff race early on. After starting their schedule against the Wizards, their next seven games are against current playoff teams.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (.597)
The team that five others in the West are chasing for the final playoff spot is Memphis. Currently 3.5 games ahead of the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, and Kings, the Grizzlies have a solid cushion heading into the bubble but nothing is guaranteed. If they can win over half of their games, they will lock up their spot in the playoffs. This won’t be easy though, with one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league. Two of their first three games are against the Trail Blazers and Pelicans who are chasing them, so they hold their own fate early on.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (.600)
After making a trip to the Western Conference Finals last season, the Trail Blazers are on the outside looking in. Getting one last chance to make a playoff push, it will take an exceptional showing for Portland after a disappointing, injury-ridden season. Not only do the Trail Blazers have a top-five most difficult schedule in the NBA, but their one back-to-back features the Clippers and 76ers, which will be a tough task.
19. Denver Nuggets (.618)
The Nuggets have been one of the best teams in the West this season and hold the No. 3 seed. It will take a productive eight games out of Denver to hold onto this position as they have the fourth toughest schedule remaining. They will even have to play the Lakers and the Clippers in consecutive games towards the end of the eight-game schedule, who are the only teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. One positive for the Nuggets is that Nikola Jokic seems to have slimmed down quite a bit and looks to be in excellent shape.
20. Los Angeles Lakers (.625)
The Lakers have a comfortable 5.5 game lead over the Clippers for the top spot in the West. Due to this, we may see them rest guys like LeBron James and Anthony Davis down the stretch once they have secured that No. 1 seed. Regardless, they will have to work for it as their first seven games are against current playoff teams. With how good they have played all season, it is likely that they will have no trouble, even with such a difficult schedule. They may be more interested in starting to build chemistry with their newer additions in Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith.
21. Miami Heat (.636)
After a hot start to the season, the Heat cooled off a bit down the stretch before the NBA hiatus. After starting the season 22-8, they’ve gone 19-16 since Christmas. Perhaps this time off will be beneficial for a team like Miami as they will get to reset and get back on the right foot like they had earlier in the season. It will be fascinating to see how much production they get out of new acquisition Andre Iguodala as well. Miami will only have one game against a team with a losing record while in Orlando before the playoffs.
22. Toronto Raptors (.638)
The team with the toughest schedule over the final eight games of the regular season is the defending champion Raptors. Not only are every single one of their opponents current playoff teams, but they will also have to match up against the top team in each conference – the Lakers and Bucks. A full three games above the Celtics for the No. 2 seed in the East, Toronto will need to take care of business throughout this difficult stretch to hold their spot.