This time last year, all everyone in Portland wanted to talk about was the Trail Blazers schedule, specifically how difficult it was going to be in the early going. On the road 16 of the first 24 games. Fifteen games against playoff teams in the same 24-game span. Over a quarter of the 82-game campaign played slightly more than a month into the season. Valid complaints. Turned out that the team was up to the task, but there was a built-in excuse in case they weren’t.
This season, no one seems too worried about the schedule. They probably shouldn’t be. Last year, when no one knew just how good this team could be, maybe there was an inclination to hedge expectations, and pointing to the big, bad schedule looming off in the distance was a good way to do that. But that’s not going to happen this year, regardless of how the schedule plays out. If they could overcome last year’s slate of games, there’s no way this season’s schedule should be a problem, right?
Well, mostly right. As difficult as Portland’s early season schedule was last year, there were some positives, mainly when it came to back-to-back games. In ’08-’09, we played a league-high 27 games in which the opponent was on the second night of a back-to-back. Let that sink in for a second. That’s 33 percent of the regular season played against teams that played the night before. And we dominated in those games, winning 23 of those contests. So to recap: 27 games against teams playing on the second night of a back-to-back, with a 23-4 record in those contests. Factor in that we’re located in the northwest, now the hinterlands of the NBA, and you start to realize that maybe last season’s schedule wasn’t so bad after all.
This season’s schedule doesn’t have the same advantage when it comes to back-to-backs. Not even close. We only play 14 games against teams on the second night of a back-to-back (in case you care, 24 is the most games any team plays against teams on the second night of a back-to-back this season). And we’re coming off the second night of a back-to-back in four of those games, so if you assume that’s a wash between the two teams, we only have ten games this season in which we’ll be going up against a team that is theoretically more tired. I think that qualifies as bad news.
We play 19 back-to-backs this season, three more than last season, which isn’t terrible. After all, the team was 9-7 last season on the second night of back-to-backs, and of those seven losses, I would only consider two “bad losses” (that dreadful overtime loss to the Clippers at home and the loss at Golden State in the game right before the All-Star break). Fifteen of our second night of back-to-back games are on the road this season, which is actually a bonus from a travel/night’s sleep perspective.
By the way, three of our four games against the Thunder are second night of back-to-backs for us. The scheduling folks back at the league office must think that’s still a quick trip from Portland. And apropos of nothing, half of our second night games are against divisional teams, for whatever that is worth.
(Many thanks to Sports Communications savant Aaron Grossman for crunching these numbers)