The NBA announced the second half of its 2020-21 regular-season schedule on Wednesday, and as expected, it will be a grind for players and teams who will play as many as 40 games in the 68-day stretch from March 10 to May 16.
When the season began, all 30 teams were scheduled to play 37 or 38 games over a 73-day stretch in the first half of a 72-game slate, which began on Dec. 22 and will end on March 4, when the league will hold its annual All-Star break. Entering Wednesday, 30 games had been postponed as a result of coronavirus health and safety protocols.
Barring any further COVID-19 postponements over the first half's final nine days, only one team — the Los Angeles Clippers — will have played its originally scheduled 38 games. Five others — the Toronto Raptors, New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets — are scheduled to complete 37 games by March 4.
The second-half schedule release potentially features one game of particular import. The Lakers are scheduled to visit the Washington Wizards on April 28, their first game in the nation's capital since winning the championship. They hope to resume the tradition of visiting the White House, President Joe Biden's schedule permitting, per Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes. No NBA team received a White House invitation during Donald Trump's four years in office.
Which teams have hardest second-half schedule?
The Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs, both battling for playoff positioning in the Western Conference, have had their schedules hardest hit by the pandemic. Both teams are faced with playing 40 games in the second half of the slate. Not only that, but they also have the most road games left by a wide margin (22 and 23, respectively). The Sacramento Kings are the only other team with 20 of their 36 road games still remaining in the season's second half.
Teams were originally scheduled to play a minimum of 16 road games and a maximum of 19 in the season's second half. Almost half of all teams have announced plans to host a limited number of fans in their arenas going forward.
The first-half schedule featured an average of seven back-to-backs (games on consecutive nights) per team. That number has risen into the double digits for six teams. The Spurs and Grizzlies, for example, will play 11 back-to-backs over the season's final 68 days, with San Antonio closing with four games in five nights from May 12-16. The Knicks have the fewest number of second-half back-to-backs (six), followed by the Nets and Clippers (seven apiece).
The Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks are scheduled to play 38 games apiece in the second half. In addition to the Spurs and Grizzlies, the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers also have more than half of their 72-game schedules still to play after the All-Star break.
The second half of the season will begin with a pair of games on March 10: Wizards at Grizzlies (8 p.m. ET) and Spurs at Mavericks (8:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV). As TNT reopens its nationally televised NBA programming on March 11, the Celtics will visit the Nets at 7:30 p.m. ET, followed by the Clippers hosting the Warriors at 10 p.m. ET.
The Rockets' 21 home games over the final 68 days are the NBA's most. The Raptors, Blazers, Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics will also have more than half their home games still to play.
The Kings, Mavericks, Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets have faced the league's most difficult schedules to date, in that order, according to ESPN, which usually coincides with an easier second-half slate. The opposite is also true for the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers, who had played the easiest schedules entering Wednesday. Every other team has faced opponents with an average winning percentage that falls between 49% and 51% to this point.
With the Western Conference fielding eight of the top 11 records in the NBA, the number of inter-conference games remaining could also be a competitive imbalance down the stretch. Teams are scheduled to play 42 inter-conference games (three against each opponent) and 30 intra-conference games (two apiece) in the regular season. In the West, the Spurs have by far the most games left against the East (23), while the first-place Jazz have the least (11). In the East, the first-place 76ers are tied with the most games left against the West (20), while the Bulls have the least (11).
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