Opinion: NBA schedule-makers treat Thunder fairly
The revamped NBA schedule was fair to the Thunder. When the league stopped on March 11, the Thunder had the 11th-toughest remaining strength of schedule, out of the 22 teams that eventually were included in the Orlando reboot. When the NBA released its new schedule on June 26, the Thunder checked in at No. 12 out of 22 teams on remaining strength of schedule.
Hard to argue with that.
“I really haven’t looked at how we were treated vs. somebody else,” Billy Donovan said. “The bottom line is, the schedule was put out. We don’t have control over that. All we have control over is getting prepared and going out there and playing.”
The NBA season resumes July 31, with 22 teams playing eight games each. The eight teams in the league with no playoff hopes were banished. The weakest teams are gone, so every team’s schedule ostensibly is tougher.
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In the revamped schedule, the NBA tried to finish out the original schedule as much as possible and mostly did just that.
All eight Thunder games in Orlando are against teams on OKC’s remaining original schedule – Jazz, Nuggets, Lakers, Grizzlies, Wizards, Suns, Heat and Clippers. The Thunder also was scheduled to play the Timberwolves, Hawks, Hornets, Knickerbockers and Warriors, none of whom will be in Orlando, plus the Nets, Grizzlies, Mavericks, Jazz (again) and Nuggets (again), who will be in the Disney bubble.
That seems a decent tradeoff. Of course, the Thunder would have preferred to play Brooklyn, which appears to have surrendered, but OKC does get to play Washington and Phoenix, while missing second games against Utah and Denver.
“I think our guys understand, you get to the playoffs, you’re going to be playing against good teams,” Donovan said. “I kind of like it the way it is. We’re going to be playing against high-level teams for eight games before we even get to the playoffs. I think that’s a good thing.
“So you can sit there and look at the seeding part of it, we can fall, we can slip, but that’s part of it, too. I think you gotta take the schedule and look at it, what can you gain from it and how can you improve and get ready for the playoffs?”
Of course, not every team was treated so fairly. Some got much-tougher schedules. Some got much-easier schedules.
The Miami Heat has the toughest schedule in Orlando. Of the Heat’s eight remaining games, only one opponent, Phoenix, is against a losing-record team. On March 11, Miami had the NBA’s 13th-toughest remaining schedule. The Heat has to be asking, what gives?
Same with Portland. The Blazers had the 18th-toughest remaining schedule on March 11 but have the third-toughest schedule in Orlando.
Before the pandemic, Portland still was going to play Golden State, Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit twice and Minnesota twice. But in Orlando, the Blazers open with Memphis, then get the Celtics, Rockets, Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers and Mavericks, before closing with the Nets.
And just to ruin the day of the conspiracy crowd, the Lakers have the fourth-toughest Orlando schedule, even though the LeBrons on March 11 had the 16th-toughest remaining schedule.
The Lakers now play the Clippers, Raptors, Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, Pacers and Nuggets, before closing with the Kings in what could be a meaningless game.
The NBA was easy on a few teams, including some that don’t care. Brooklyn went from the 10th-toughest remaining schedule out of 30 teams to the 17th-toughest schedule among 22 Orlando teams. Washington went from No. 1 in March to No. 9 in Orlando. But the Nets and Wizards are playing to see who can leave the bubble the fastest.
Not so for Boston and Utah.
The Celtics matched the Wizards in unmerited favor, going from the 12th-toughest remaining schedule to the 20th-toughest in Orlando. Five of Boston’s eight games are against teams with losing records – Portland, Brooklyn, Orlando, Memphis and Washington. Boston stands third place in the Eastern Conference; don’t bet on the Celtics falling to fourth.
But the NBA treated the Jazz with the most grace. Utah had the NBA’s sixth-toughest remaining schedule on March 11, out of 30 teams. Now, the Jazz has the 15th-toughest, out of 22 teams. Utah has four games against losing-record teams, including two against San Antonio.
The Thunder is a game behind the Jazz in the Western Conference standings. OKC and Utah play on August 1. The winner gets the season tiebreaker between those teams. If the Thunder doesn’t win that opener, catching the Jazz will be a massive feat.
“I know it’s challenging,” Donovan said. “I know it’s difficult. Got a lot of really really good teams. I also think we’re going to find the level we’ve got to get to be the best version of ourselves.”
That’s the beauty of the Orlando setup. The NBA neither helped nor hurt the Thunder cause. The Thunder is in charge of whatever happens in the Disney bubble.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.