Houston opens the season with one of the most manageable schedules in the league. The Rockets have just one back-to-back through January, and seven of their first 10 games will be at home. Houston will host Oklahoma City before road games against Portland and Denver. Then the Rockets will begin a three-game homestand and will play six of their next seven at home. During this stretch, they will host the Lakers for a two-game series before entering the toughest part of their January schedule. The Rockets will be on the road for five of their next six, including their first back-to-back.
On Jan. 20, they will face Phoenix at home before traveling to Detroit to take on the Pistons. The next night they are scheduled to play the Mavericks in Dallas, which could mean a letdown against Detroit. An emotional game follows as Russell Westbrook, now a Wizard, makes his return to Houston three nights later. The Rockets’ next game, at home against the Trail Blazers, could be a letdown after facing Westbrook. It’s a pretty underwhelming schedule for Houston to open the season, which could be very beneficial for a team looking to find its identity under a new regime.
The Rockets finally hit the road for an extended period in February. Nine of their first 11 games will be away from home, and they will not play consecutive home games until a three-game homestand beginning Feb. 19. Their first trip begins on the final day of January, when the Rockets are in New Orleans for the first of a four-game swing. Two nights later they will have a two-game series in Oklahoma City, the second of which is the first leg of a back-to-back that ends in Memphis. The Rockets will return home for a game against the Spurs before going back on the road for their second back-to-back of the month, this one in Charlotte and New Orleans. Circle the Pelicans game as a potential letdown spot for Houston, which will be playing its fifth game in seven nights. The Rockets get another single home game, this one against the Heat, before hitting the road for three more against Eastern Conference teams.
The most challenging aspect of this month comes when the Rockets must play seven games in 11 days. They will host the Mavericks and Pacers on back-to-back nights before games against the Bulls and Cavaliers. After a trip to Tampa to take on the Raptors, they are back home for another back-to-back against Memphis and Cleveland before wrapping the first half against Brooklyn. One has to wonder if James Harden will be in black and white by then.
Golden State Warriors
The questions surrounding the Warriors are going to be answered quickly this season. Golden State will spend all of the opening week on the road, taking on two of the best the Eastern Conference has to offer. The Warriors begin their season as 5.5-point underdogs in Brooklyn before heading to Milwaukee on Christmas, where they are catching 9.5 points. Golden State follows that brutal two-game stretch with games in Chicago and Detroit before heading home to open January. The schedule does not lighten up whatsoever at home, though. Portland will be at the Chase Center for consecutive games, one of which is the front end of a back-to-back with Sacramento on the second night. After a night off, the Clippers come to town for another set of consecutive games before the seven-game home stand ends with Toronto and Indiana. That’s seven of Golden State’s first 11 games against teams projected to have win totals of 41.5 or more.
It doesn’t get any easier after that as a three-game trip starts with a back-to-back in Denver and Phoenix before ending in Los Angeles against the Lakers. The Warriors have a quick back-to-back at home against the Spurs and Knicks before a brief trip to Utah. January ends with three of four at home, including consecutive games against the Timberwolves, one of which is the front end of a back-to-back that ends in Phoenix. In total, Golden State plays 12 teams with projected win totals of 41.5 or higher in its first 21 games.
Golden State tips off February with a home game against Boston before embarking on a Texas two-step, playing consecutive two-game sets in Dallas and San Antonio over the span of a week. A home game against Orlando has “trap game” written all over it as it predates Kevin Durant’s return to the Bay Area a night later. After home games against Cleveland and Miami, the Warriors will go east for a back-to-back that begins in Orlando and ends in Charlotte. That is the start of a four-game Eastern swing that consists of two back-to-backs. The second will take the Warriors from New York to Indiana on consecutive evenings.
On Feb. 26, Golden State faces a massive letdown spot at home against a feisty Charlotte team. The Warriors will be home from their four-game, double back-to-back road trip for just one game before going back on the road to Los Angeles (Lakers) and Portland. It is pretty likely Golden State will not be up for that home game against Charlotte, and bettors likely will have that spot circled as a bet-against situation for the Warriors. Playing in the Western Conference is no joke, and it shows in Golden State’s schedule. They get 19 games against teams with those high win totals, 13 of which are Western opponents. Throw in six back-to-backs, and you have the potential for a disastrous start for the Warriors.
Los Angeles Clippers
The schedule looks quite challenging for the Clippers in December. The season begins at the Staples Center — but as the road team against the Lakers on Ring Night. After two nights off, they get a small chance at revenge against the Nuggets in Denver on Christmas Day before heading home for a three-game homestand. They will face Dallas in their home opener, making it three straight playoff teams to start the season. The Clippers face their first back-to-back Dec. 29 and Dec. 30 against Minnesota and Portland. Those games begin a six-game stretch over nine days that will end with a home-road back-to-back against San Antonio and Golden State.
Their schedule lightens up considerably after that. Five of the Clippers’ next seven opponents have win totals lower than 30, giving them a brief reprieve before a grueling six-game East Coast road trip that will stretch into February. The trip begins in Atlanta before a Florida back-to-back against Miami and Orlando. January ends with what could be a letdown in New York against the Knicks with a game against the Nets waiting for them two days later.
The game against Brooklyn is actually the front end of a back-to-back, and it sets up an even juicer letdown spot. The next night Los Angeles will be in Cleveland for the end of their six-game road trip. The last game of a long road trip is usually a letdown spot, but this will be the end of a particularly grueling six games in eight days with two back-to-backs.
Hard to believe the Clippers will be up for the Cavaliers, especially with a home game against Boston looming two days later. They get another small break in the schedule here as their next four opponents (Sacramento, Minnesota, Chicago and Cleveland) all have win totals of 29.5 or lower. Their meeting with Cleveland will be the front end of a back-to-back that ends with a home date against Miami, leaving open the possibility of another letdown spot against the Cavaliers. Those two games open a six-game homestand that will end with the Clippers hosting the Nets and Wizards.
February ends with another trip, this one a five-game jaunt out east. However, this one is slightly less grueling as Los Angeles will play two straight in Memphis. The second meeting with the Grizzlies is the front end of a back-to-back that will end in Milwaukee. Boston and Washington await in March.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers start their title defense with a four-game homestand that opens with Ring Night against the Clippers and Christmas Day against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. After two nights off, they have their first home back-to-back against Minnesota and Portland. Yes, three of those first four opponents were playoff teams last season, but seven of their next nine games will come against teams with win totals of 31.5 or lower.
Los Angeles’ first trip is four games, but they travel to only two cities. They open in Memphis, where they will play two games in three nights before doing the same thing in San Antonio two nights later. The Lakers return home for a back-to-back against San Antonio and Chicago, then get back on the road for a two-game series in Houston. The second game of the series in Houston is the front end of a back-to-back that ends in Oklahoma City.
This is where the Lakers’ schedule will finally tighten up. They return home for two games against New Orleans and Golden State before setting off on a seven-game Eastern trip that will span 11 days. Circle Jan. 28 as a dead spot for the Lakers. It is the back end of a back-to-back in Detroit, which is sandwiched between games against the 76ers and Celtics.
The month begins with the end of that seven-game trip in Atlanta. Another potential letdown after an arduous trip back East. Three nights later the Lakers will host the Nuggets and start a five-game homestand that includes three teams (Detroit, Oklahoma City, Memphis) that are expected to win 30 games or fewer. Los Angeles will head to Denver for the first time on Feb. 14, which sets up a tough sandwich spot two days later in Minnesota. The Lakers will be coming off a game against a contender with Brooklyn waiting for them two nights later in Los Angeles. It might be hard for them to find the motivation for the lowly Timberwolves.
The Lakers will have six of eight games at home to end the first half of their schedule, and it's a stretch of quality opponents. Following up the Nets will be the reigning Eastern Conference champion Heat, and the Wizards will be in town two days later. A single road trip to Utah will follow those three games before the Lakers host Portland, Golden State and Phoenix to wrap the home schedule for the first half. Look out for that final game at Sacramento. It is the back end of a back-to-back, and it comes after facing Phoenix. After facing seven potential playoff teams, the Lakers might not be as motivated in that spot.
Phoenix has an exciting team that is looking to compete for a playoff spot, but their schedule in the first half looks taxing. After opening the season against Dallas, the Suns will play five games over seven days. They go to Sacramento for a two-game series on back-to-back nights. They then return home for a single game against New Orleans before getting a road back-to-back two nights later in Utah and Denver. Not only does Phoenix play five games in seven nights, but the last two will be played at altitude. Look for a tired Suns team against the Nuggets in that one.
The schedule does not ease up either. Next, they face the Clippers and Raptors at home before heading east for a three-game trip that spans four days (Detroit, Indiana, Washington). Back home after that brief trip, Phoenix gets another three games over four nights before road games against Memphis and Houston. Four of the Suns’ last five games in January will be at home, and mixed in there is a back-to-back, two-game set with the Nuggets. Three days later, there’s another home back-to-back, this one against Oklahoma City and Golden State, before the Suns end the month in Dallas. For those counting at home, that is six back-to-backs for Phoenix over the first five weeks of the season.
The Suns have one more game in Dallas before going to New Orleans, which will end a brief three-game trip. Phoenix gets its next seven games at home, all against Eastern Conference opponents. However, four of those project to win 44 games or more, and there are two back-to-backs in those 12 days as well. What looks like a manageable stretch of games on its surface is actually a seven-game, 12-day gauntlet against some of the league’s best.
Keep an eye on two dates here: Feb. 8 and Feb. 14. Phoenix will face Cleveland and Orlando those days as the back end of back-to-backs after facing Boston and Philadelphia, respectively, on the front end. Both are also rough sandwich spots. After that game with the Cavaliers, the Suns face the Bucks, and after getting through Orlando, the Nets await to wrap up this ridiculous stretch of games.
The Suns hit the road for a road back-to-back against New Orleans and Memphis once they wrap their homestand, and they return home for a sneaky two-game stand against Portland and Charlotte. Phoenix ends the first half with three games on the road, taking five days to go through Chicago, Minnesota and Los Angeles, where they will face the Lakers. Phoenix has one of the toughest first-half schedules in the league. They have nine back-to-backs, and 15 of their first 37 games are against opponents with win totals of 41.5 or higher.
There is a very realistic chance Sacramento does not win a game until late January, given the makeup of its schedule. The season begins in Denver before two in a row at home against the Suns. Two nights later, the Kings have their second meeting with the Nuggets before going to Houston for a two-game series with the Rockets. Sacramento will wrap up that trip against the Warriors before a seven-game homestand. Four of the Kings’ opponents during the homestand (Raptors, Blazers, Pacers, Clippers) project to win 40 or more games, and they must face Portland twice. Chicago and New Orleans also visit in this stretch, which means it's possible the Kings will not be favored to win a game until Jan. 22, when the Knicks come to town.
Sacramento then hits the road for a six-game trip that will stretch into February. The Kings begin with a back-to-back against the Grizzlies before making the Florida swing against Orlando, Toronto (playing in Tampa) and Miami, the last two of which come in another back-to-back to end the month. Do not be surprised if the Kings limp into February with just four wins after a brutal opening month.
Sacramento’s schedule does not lighten up whatsoever early in February. Over the first nine days, the Kings will face the Pelicans on the road before heading back home to host Boston and Denver. The Nuggets game is the front end of a back-to-back that will end with them facing the Clippers in Los Angeles. After a night off, they tip off a five-game homestand against Philadelphia. Orlando, Memphis, Brooklyn and Miami will all visit over the next nine days, and that includes a back-to-back with the Grizzlies and Nets. Two days after the homestand ends, the Kings will be in Chicago for the first of a back-to-back that ends in Milwaukee against the Bucks. Two days later they get their second game with Brooklyn in 10 days before wrapping up their Eastern swing with a back-to-back in New York and Detroit. That makes eight of the Kings’ first 14 opponents of February that project to win 44 games or more.
They wrap up their first half at home against Charlotte before a home-road back-to-back against the Lakers and Trail Blazers. Realistically, Sacramento will be favored in four games in the first half of its schedule, and with 22 of their opponents projected to win 39 or more games, it sets up the Kings for a brutal start to the year.
It will be an interesting first month-plus for Dallas as they’ll play 13 of their first 20 games on the road with no more than two consecutive home games until February. The Mavericks will start in Phoenix against the Suns before getting to rest in Los Angeles for a few days. They will face the Lakers on Christmas and the Clippers two days later. Dallas will open its home schedule against Charlotte before hosting Miami two nights later. Their first back-to-back of the season comes at Chicago and Houston before they end a three-game trip in Denver. Dallas will play their next three against Orlando, New Orleans and Charlotte before going to Milwaukee for its first crack at Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. Bettors should circle Jan. 17 as a bet-against spot for the Mavs.
They will host the Bulls on the front end of a back-to-back that ends in Tampa, Fla., against the Raptors, and it comes just two days after a prime-time meeting with Milwaukee. The game with Toronto tips off a three-game trip that also includes Indiana and San Antonio. The Spurs game will be the front of a back-to-back that will conclude at home against the Rockets. The last four games of January are rough for the Mavericks. They must host the Nuggets before a two-game series in Utah against the Jazz, then they return home for a two-game set against the Suns.
The Mavericks will follow that series against Phoenix with a quick trip to Atlanta, which is the front end of a road-home back-to-back that concludes with Golden State. The Warriors will be in town for a two-game series that will kick off the Mavericks’ seven-game homestand. After playing 13 of 20 games on the road to start the season, the Mavericks will be home for 11 of 16 games in February and March. Over those seven games, Dallas will not face a single team projected to win more games than they are. And the Mavs won’t face such an opponent until Feb. 23, when the Celtics visit. That game is the back end of a back-to-back, but it will be the Mavericks’ ninth home in a span of 11 games. It could very well be a great bet-on spot for Dallas.
Following that matchup with Boston, the Mavericks will get to test themselves against the elite of the Eastern Conference on the road. They will start on the road against the 76ers before facing the Nets for the first time this season. Dallas will wrap up the three-game trip in Orlando two days later before ending the first half at home against Oklahoma City.
Memphis has a fairly balanced schedule early, with a slight majority of home games and no trip longer than three games. They will tip off the season at home against San Antonio and Atlanta before embarking on one of those trips, and it will be a challenging one. The Grizzlies will meet Boston and Brooklyn before wrapping up with a sneaky trap game against Charlotte in which they likely will be favored but should not be. Circle it. Back at home two days later, they will start a two-game series with the Lakers before hosting Cleveland on the front end of a back-to-back that ends with the Nets coming to town.
Memphis goes on another three-game trip two nights later, but the Grizzlies visit only two cities as they will have a two-game set in Minnesota as part of it. The second game with the Timberwolves is the front end of a road-home back-to-back with Philadelphia on the back end, so the second meeting with Minnesota could be a letdown spot. The 76ers game marks the start of a pretty tough four-game run that will see the Grizzlies face Philadelphia, Phoenix and Portland twice — on the road — in a week. Memphis then will host Sacramento for a back-to-back.
February is similar to the first month-plus of the season for Memphis, but it is even more favorable as the Grizzlies will not have a trip longer than two games. They will start the month in San Antonio, wrapping up a two-game series with the Spurs, the last coming on the front end of a back-to-back that ends in Indiana. The quality of Memphis’ opponents this month will be challenging for the young team. They return home to face Houston before a one-off in New Orleans against Zion Williamson and the Pelicans. Back home they get the Raptors and Hornets before swinging through California for two games against the Lakers and Kings. Keep an eye on that meeting in Sacramento as that is stuck between a game with Los Angeles and another against New Orleans. Memphis could be caught in a letdown that night.
The Pelicans game is the first of a three-game stand at home, with Detroit and Phoenix also visiting. Two nights later the Grizzlies are in Dallas before returning to Memphis for a back-to-back against the Clippers. That is four straight games against teams projected to win 40 or more games, and the Grizzlies have meetings with the Rockets, Wizards and Bucks to end the first half. They have no grueling trips to deal with, and only six back-to-back spots, of which three are consecutive home games.
New Orleans Pelicans
Despite being the apple of the NBA’s eye, the Pelicans received no favors from the schedule makers. New Orleans not only has to play four of its first five games on the road, but 11 of its first 16 games will be away from home. That includes a seven-game, 13-day trip in the middle of January. The season begins in Tampa, where they will face the Raptors before heading to Miami to take on the Heat on Christmas. After a quick home opener against the Spurs, the Pelicans are back on the road to meet the Suns and Thunder.
A four-game homestand against the Raptors, Pacers, Thunder and Hornets precedes that daunting road trip. The travel on that trip is not as bad as it sounds. Despite playing seven away from home, the Pelicans will only be in five cities. They will face the Clippers and Lakers in Los Angeles and will play a two-game set against the Jazz in Utah. They will not have to endure a back-to-back during that road trip, either, making things a little more palatable for a young team. Still, five of their opponents are projected to win 40 or more games, so this will still be quite a challenge. January wraps up with a four-game homestand against the Spurs, Wizards, Bucks and Rockets.
Those four games at the end of January are actually part of a larger six-game homestand that stretches into February, and it is part of a stretch that will see the Pelicans get eight of nine at home. After finishing the initial home slate with Sacramento and Phoenix, they will go to Indiana for the front end of a road-home back-to-back with the Pacers and Grizzlies. Two nights later, they will host Houston before hitting the road for three against Chicago, Dallas and Memphis.
Back home on Feb. 17, the Pelicans will face a rough stretch to close the first half of the season. They will have four consecutive games at home, but the first three opponents will be Portland, Phoenix and Boston. New Orleans has a bit of a trap at home on Feb. 24 against Detroit because it is the first of a home-road back-to-back that will end in Milwaukee the next night. That makes it four of six games against teams projected to win 40 games or more, and two of them (Portland, Milwaukee) will be on the second nights of a back-to-back. The fun will not stop there. The Pelicans wrap up the first half with three home games, but they will be against the Jazz, Bulls and Heat over four days.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio has its work cut out to start the season. The Spurs tip off on the road against the Grizzlies before a home opener against the Raptors three days later, and that is where things escalate. The Raptors game starts a seven-game stretch in which the Spurs will not only face six teams with projected win totals of 41.5 or higher, but four of those games will be against either the Lakers or Clippers. The Spurs will host the Lakers for a two-game set after a trip to New Orleans, then they get the Jazz at home before going to Los Angeles to face the Clippers and Lakers. That L.A. circuit starts a five-game trip that will take the Spurs to Minnesota for a back-to-back before a visit to Oklahoma City.
Seven of the Spurs’ next 10 games will be at home, but their opponents will include the Trail Blazers, Mavericks, Pelicans, Celtics and Nuggets. The Spurs will have a home-road back-to-back against the Wizards and Pelicans before returning for home games against the Celtics and Nuggets. Look out for the Jan. 30 game against the Grizzlies. It is the Spurs’ third game in four nights, and the second leg of a back-to-back. After facing the Celtics and Nuggets, they might be pretty taxed against the Grizzlies.
The Memphis game we circled in January is actually the first of a two-game series against the Grizzlies, and part of a five-game homestand for the Spurs that continues in early February. The Spurs will have four of five at home (Memphis, Minnesota, Houston, Golden State) before embarking on the dreaded Rodeo Road Trip.
San Antonio is 5-17 SU and 8-14 ATS in its last 22 games on their annual expedition when the rodeo takes over their arena. However, this season’s trip should go somewhat better. Six of their seven opponents are Eastern Conference teams, and four (Charlotte, Detroit, Cleveland, New York) are projected to win fewer than 30 games. There is also only one back-to-back during the trip (Detroit, Cleveland) which should mean the Spurs have their best Rodeo Road trip since the 2016-17 season. The spot to watch is the first game back home after the trip in which they are 2-2 SU and 1-3 ATS the last four seasons. New Orleans will be the opponent in that game, and two days later the Spurs host the Nets and Knicks on back-to-back nights before putting a bow on the first half with the Thunder.
The second half of January is loaded up with road games for the Nuggets, so it makes sense that they start the season with three straight and six of eight at home. The big game to start the season is on Christmas in a rematch of their conference semifinal series with the Clippers. That’s followed by a home-road back-to-back against Houston and Sacramento. Denver will face Phoenix for the first time three nights later before a home-road against Minnesota over three days. The Nuggets will host the Mavericks before getting into the glut of the road schedule for this month.
From Jan. 9 to Jan. 29, Denver will play 11 games, eight on the road. The Nuggets will have to endure two road back-to-backs, but one is just consecutive games against the Suns in Phoenix. Overall, in this 11-game stretch, they will face seven opponents projected to win 40 or more games, including four consecutive games (Suns, Mavericks, Heat) against those opponents.
Bettors should mark Jan. 10 as a bet-against spot for Denver. It will be the second leg of a road back-to-back against the Knicks. The previous night the Nuggets will be in Philadelphia, and two nights later they will have the Nets to deal with.
February and March are heavy on road games, too, as the Nuggets will play 10 of their 17 games away from home. However, they do get five of their first seven at home, including a four-game homestand. There is a pretty big letdown spot on Feb. 6 that bettors should be aware of. The Nuggets will be in Los Angeles to take on the Lakers two nights prior, and they have a massive meeting with the Bucks back home two days later. Stuck in the middle will be a date with the lowly Kings, so the Nuggets likely will be sizable, but disinterested, favorites. The game against the Bucks will be the first of a four-game homestand that will see the Cavaliers and Thunder visit Denver before a second meeting with the Lakers. That game against Los Angeles is the first of three games over four days for the Nuggets. Two nights later, they’ll be in Boston for the first of a back-to-back that will end in Washington, setting up another good spot to play against the Nuggets. Denver wraps the trip with games in Charlotte and Atlanta before coming back home to host Portland and Washington.
Their last four games of the first half are all on the road, making it eight of 10 away from home heading into March. They have a road back-to-back in Chicago and Milwaukee that could be dangerous as well.
Minnesota gets to operate in the friendly confines of the Target Center for a big chunk of the early schedule as 12 of its first 20 games will come at home. Most of those home games come in January, so it could offset what looks like a potentially rough start. The Timberwolves will open as a home favorite against the Pistons, but then embark on a three-game trip over four days in which they will meet the Jazz and Lakers on back-to-back nights before they take on the Clippers one night later. That will get Minnesota to January, where they will have 11 of 16 games at home, and no more than two consecutive road games until February.
It starts with home games against the Wizards and Nuggets. That game against the Nuggets is part of a home-and-home set with Denver before a trip to Portland two days later. The Timberwolves are back home for the next four games but will face only two opponents: the Spurs and Grizzlies. While Minnesota does have the benefit of playing at home, it likely will be a home dog multiple times to end the month, including meetings with the Hawks, Pelicans and 76ers. With a heavy home schedule and lesser opponents like the Pistons, Spurs, Grizzlies and Cavaliers on the schedule, the Timberwolves could get off to a decent start by the time we get to February.
That meeting with Cleveland to close out January is actually the first of a home-road back-to-back against the Cavaliers, and that starts a five-game road trip against four opponents for Minnesota. The Timberwolves will be in San Antonio two days later before a two-game series on back-to-back nights against Oklahoma City. That is five games in seven nights for the Timberwolves before they head to Dallas for the final game of their trip. After a brief stop back home for a game against the Clippers, the Timberwolves are back on the road for a two-game swing against the Hornets and Raptors. That would make it six of the first seven in February away from Minnesota for the T-Wolves. This is also about where the schedule really ramps up.
Starting with that Mavericks game, the Timberwolves will face seven opponents in nine games projected to win 41 or more games this season. That stretch ends in Milwaukee against the Bucks, which is the front end of a back-to-back that ends in Chicago. Those two games also make up a six-day stretch in which Minnesota will endure two back-to-backs, ending Feb. 28 against the Suns. Yes, the Timberwolves could be feeling great heading into February, but there is a good chance this schedule brings them back down to earth as they head into the second half of the season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
What a daunting way to start the season for Oklahoma City. The Thunder must deal with two five-game road trips, and 12 of 20 away from home. They start the season in Houston before heading to Charlotte three days later to meet the Hornets. The Thunder’s home opener will be against the Jazz, and it will be the front end of a home back-to-back that will finish with the Magic. Oklahoma City gets the Pelicans at home before embarking on the first of its five-game road trips in January.
The Thunder’s first stop is Orlando for a rematch against the Magic before visiting the Heat in Miami. They wrap up their road trip against the Pelicans, Knicks and Nets with a day off after each game. Two nights later they will host a back-to-back against the Spurs and Lakers before playing their third game in four nights against the Bulls. This is where the Thunder will really start to hurt. Their meeting with the Nets on Jan. 10 will be the beginning of an 11-game stretch in which they will face eight teams projected to win 42 or more games, and five of those games will be on the road. And that doesn’t include the Suns and Bulls, who could also beat a team hurting for offensive talent.
Playing 10 of 17 games at home is always beneficial, but when most of those opponents are NBA Finals contenders, it may not matter. The Thunder begin February with four games against two opponents at home. The Rockets will be in town for a two-game series before Oklahoma City will host the Timberwolves for a back-to-back. After a day off, the Thunder will head out on a three-game trip to Los Angeles and Denver. They will face the Lakers in a two-game series before visiting the Nuggets two nights later. Back at home, the Thunder get two games against Milwaukee and Portland before facing the Bucks for a second time in six nights, this time in Milwaukee. In case you’re not keeping track, that is four of six games against the two teams most likely to win the NBA Finals (Lakers, Bucks), and another two against the Nuggets and Trail Blazers. Oklahoma City has a winnable game in Cleveland following that stretch, but how ready will they be after a stretch like that?
The Cavaliers game is also the front end of a road-home back-to-back that ends against the Heat the next night. This portion of the schedule comes to a merciful end with four of six games at home, but opponents still include the Heat, Hawks, Nuggets and Mavericks.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland’s schedule is heavy with home games to start. Twelve of the Trail Blazers’ first 20 opponents will have to make the trek to the Pacific Northwest, giving the Blazers plenty of opportunity to get off to a strong start. The first few games are no joke, though, beginning with the Jazz and Rockets at home before the team’s only real trip of the month. Portland will start the trip with a three-day stay in Los Angeles to face the Lakers and Clippers before a two-game series against the Warriors in San Francisco.
The Blazers get an opportunity to pad their record from here on out, as nine of their next 12 opponents are projected to win fewer than 30 games, and only two of the games will be on the road. They will host the Bulls and Timberwolves before going to Sacramento to take on the Kings. Then, eight of their next nine games will be at home, beginning with the Pacers in the second leg of a back-to-back.
From there, the Blazers will face the Spurs, Grizzlies, Knicks and Thunder, the last two on back-to-back nights. A favorable month ends with winnable games against the Rockets and Bulls, both of which are on the road and the start of a six-game Eastern swing that bleeds into February.
That trip continues in Milwaukee, arguably the toughest game on Portland’s schedule since Jan. 11 against Toronto. Three days later, the Blazers will be in Philadelphia taking on the 76ers before wrapping up the trip with a road back-to-back against the Knicks and Hornets. Bettors could get a solid spot to fade the Trail Blazers on Feb. 12 against the Cavaliers. That will be the second leg of a back-to-back, with the Blazers facing the 76ers the night before, and their third game in four nights. They hit the road for six of their next seven, starting in Dallas against the Mavericks. After a night off, there’s a back-to-back in Oklahoma City and New Orleans before a quick trip home to meet the Wizards, which could be a sneaky spot for the Blazers to trip up.
Back on the road, the Blazers will have another road back-to-back in Phoenix and Denver before taking on the Lakers in Los Angeles three nights later. The first half ends with three home games over four days for the Blazers against the Hornets, Warriors and Kings. After an opening month in which Portland can pad its record, February brings a rude awakening. The Blazers have five back-to-backs in this part of the schedule, and 10 of 17 games on the road.
The Jazz will be tested to start the season. Not only do they open against a talented Trail Blazers team on the road, but they must also play 10 of their first 13 games away from home. There are three back-to-backs, two of which will see both legs take place on the road, leaving the door open for a slow start. On New Year’s Eve, they face the Suns at home before the Clippers visit the next day. After that set, they embark on a seven-game trip that will take them east. On Jan. 5, they have the front end of a back-to-back in Brooklyn that will end with a sandwich spot in New York. Utah might not be up for the Knicks because they have a game in Milwaukee two nights later. After that, they go to Detroit before wrapping up the trip with a back-to-back in Cleveland and Washington.
The Jazz likely will be in a massive letdown spot when they return home from the trip to host the Hawks, as that will be their seventh game in 11 days and their first game home since the beginning of the month. The Jazz will then go back on the road to meet the Nuggets in Denver, giving them eight of nine games on the road and nine games in 15 days. They wrap up the month with a six-game homestand.
February does not let up for the Jazz either. Yes, they will get favorable matchups with the Pistons, Hawks and Hornets to start the month, but the meetings with Atlanta and Charlotte come on back-to-back nights. Utah will then enter a stretch of 10 games in which they will face nine teams projected to win 40 or more games. First, they will wrap up a three-game trip in Indiana against the Pacers before returning home for a four-game homestand in which they will face the Celtics, Bucks, Heat and 76ers with the games against Milwaukee and Miami on back-to-back nights. Once that is done, the Jazz will go to Los Angeles for a two-game set with the Clippers before heading back home for two games. They will host the Hornets in a brutal sandwich spot before they take on the Lakers. Two nights later, they will find themselves in Miami for a meeting with the Heat.
The first half ends with three more road games — against the Magic, Pelicans and 76ers. There are many who think Utah is set for a big season, but with a schedule like this to start the season, there is a very realistic chance the Jazz find themselves with a .500 even record heading into mid-March.