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Schedule Breakdowns for NBA Playoff Contenders

Jimmy SpencerNBA Lead WriterMarch 5, 2013

Schedule Breakdowns for NBA Playoff Contenders

1 of 19

    The road into the postseason isn't balanced from here.

    There's only one quarter left in the NBA's regular season and the difficulty of a team's remaining schedule has become a factor.

    The breakdown offers insight for how the NBA playoffs may take shape.

    Heading into the final stage of the season, only 17 teams remain in play for the 16 available playoff spots between both conferences.

    The Eastern Conference is simply a battle of positioning now, as the final playoff spot boasts a seven-game buffer. The Los Angeles Lakers look to be the only Western Conference squad capable of intruding into the current playoff picture.

    With just over 20 games remaining for each team, seeding for home court becomes the greatest intrigue.

    Some teams have a tougher go than others due to road schedules and difficulty of opponents.

     

    All stats and records are current prior to games played on March 5. The site playoffstatus.com was used to determine opponent's winning percentage for remaining games.

1. San Antonio Spurs

2 of 19

    Remaining games: 14 home, 7 away (15 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 47-14 overall; home (24-3); away (23-11) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 55%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 50%

    Top three key games: March 11 vs Oklahoma City; March 29 vs. Los Angeles Clippers; March 31 vs. Miami Heat

     

    The Spurs, owners of the league's best record, finish the season with the most difficult schedule of current playoff teams in the Western Conference.

    Playing without Tony Parker for at least a month, this stretch will identify the bearings of Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Both of the aged superstars will shoulder more in March without the team's superstar point guard.

    Spurs coach Gregg Popovich wants to rest his stars to stay ready for postseason play, but he can't have it all.

    If he wants to hang on to home-court advantage and keep his team rested, he'll need instant relief from guys like Nando de Colo, Patty Mills and Cory Joseph instead of adding stress on his veterans.

    What's more valuable: potential home-court advantage or rested stars?

    With the Oklahoma City Thunder trailing three games, and crucial home court in a likely rematch of last season's conference finals in line, it will be intriguing to see which way Popovich plays it.

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

3 of 19

    Remaining games: 11 home, 12 away (14 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 43-16 overall; home (26-4); away (17-12) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 51%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 50%

    Top three key games: March 5 vs. Los Angeles Lakers; March 11 at San Antonio Spurs; April 4 vs. San Antonio Spurs

     

    Oklahoma City is tough at home, as proven in its record this regular season and in last year's postseason.

    The refractory blue scene in Oklahoma City takes on the spirit of the ACC come playoffs, an effect of a college sports city earning a professional franchise.

    Despite San Antonio's home-court advantage last postseason, Oklahoma City was still able to succeed in the conference finals by sweeping at home and stealing one on the road.

    A conference finals rematch between the Thunder and Spurs is likely, and this final quarter of the season may determine which team will head to the finals.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

4 of 19

    Remaining games: 11 home, 9 away (10 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 43-19 overall; home (23-7); away (20-12) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 51%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 51%

    Top three key games: March 7 at Denver Nuggets; March 13 vs. Memphis Grizzlies; March 29 at San Antonio Spurs

     

    It seems as if the Los Angeles Clippers have gone from darlings of the Western Conference to targets of misunderstood worry.

    With losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Spurs and Miami Heat in the last 11 games, there is some concern regarding the Clippers' ability to knock off top contenders.

    But they won each of the other eight contests, including wins at the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, and home wins against the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets.

    The Clippers finish with a rather average degree of difficulty in their final 20 games.They currently trail the Thunder by just 1.5 games and lead the Grizzlies by two games.

    Either way, the Clippers aren't likely to lose first-round home-court advantage.

    However, a move into the west's top two spots certainly rewards Los Angeles deeper into the playoffs. If the Spurs fail without Tony Parker, the Clippers have a shot at home-court advantage into the conference semifinals.

4. Memphis Grizzlies

5 of 19

    Remaining games: 10 home, 14 away (12 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 39-19 overall; home (23-8); away (16-11) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 50%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 51%

    Top three key games: March 13 at Los Angeles Clippers; March 20 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder; April 1 vs. San Antonio.

     

    The Memphis Grizzlies are rolling and balancing like oversized gymnasts.

    Winners of nine of their last 10 games, the Grizzlies' only recent loss came to the Miami Heat on March 1. The team holds the fourth spot in the Western Conference, closing in on the Clippers and holding off the Denver Nuggets.

    Memphis now has four consecutive games against sub-.500 teams before a telling matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 13.

    That Clippers game kicks off a stretch of five games that includes four west playoff teams. When that string of games concludes on March 20, a clear portrayal of this Grizzlies team should be revealed.

5. Denver Nuggets

6 of 19

    Remaining games: 12 home, 9 away (11 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 39-22 overall; home (26-3); away (13-19) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 52%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 51%

    Top three key games: March 7 vs. Los Angeles Clippers; March 15 vs. Memphis Grizzlies; March 27 at San Antonio Spurs.

     

    The Denver Nuggets benefit most by moving into a top-four spot.

    Considering the obvious disparity between the Nuggets' home and away records, it's vital for the current No. 5 seed in the west to move past the Grizzlies or Clippers.

6. Golden State Warriors

7 of 19

    Remaining games: 15 home, 6 away (11 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 34-27 overall; home (19-7); away (15-20) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 49%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 52%

    Top three key games: March 8 vs. Houston Rockets; March 25 vs. Los Angeles Lakers; April 7 vs. Utah Jazz

     

    As much as the Golden State Warriors have stumbled of late, the team's remaining home schedule provides hope for the franchise that has made the playoffs just once in 18 seasons.

    The Warriors are 6.5 games out of a top-four spot, but the situations doesn't involve climbing as much as it does holding on.

    The Warriors are part of a crew of four teams—including the Rockets, Jazz and Lakers—fighting for the west's three final playoff spots. The home games against those three teams are crucial.

    The Warriors will need to return to playing the higher level of defense that keyed their early season success. The Warriors are 9-20 when their opponent scores 100 points or more. 

7. Houston Rockets

8 of 19

    Remaining games: 12 home, 9 away (10 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 33-28 overall; home (20-9); away (13-19) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 48%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 52%

    Top three key games: March 8 at Golden State Warriors; March 20 vs. Utah Jazz; April 17 at Los Angeles Lakers

     

    The Houston Rockets may have one of the lighter remaining schedules of all Western Conference playoff teams, an element that should help them claim one of the three final spots.

    Ultimately, the Rockets' postseason chances may come down to how well they play on the road. Of their final nine road games, only three are against teams with a record of .500 or better.

    The ease of remaining schedule should allow Houston to land in the postseason.

8. Utah Jazz

9 of 19

    Remaining games: 11 home, 11 away (12 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 32-28 overall; home (22-8); away (10-20) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 53%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 50%

    Top three key games: March 20 at Houston Rockets; March 22 at San Antonio Spurs; April 7 at Golden State Warriors

     

    The Utah Jazz look the most likely to be ousted from the postseason.

    Five of their final 11 road games come against teams currently seeded in the top four of their respective conference. It's likely that the Jazz won't win any of those games.

    Utah hangs on to the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference after dropping the first game of its current four-game road trip in Milwaukee on March 4. The team will play at the Cleveland Cavaliers before a road back-to-back against the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks.

    The Jazz have a quick break with a home game against the Detroit Pistons before starting a stretch of five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, New York Knicks, Rockets and Spurs.

    That stretch will likely prove too much for Utah's ability to hold a playoff spot, especially with those creeping Los Angeles Lakers.

9. Los Angeles Lakers

10 of 19

    Remaining games: 10 home, 12 away (11 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 30-30 overall; home (20-11); away (10-19) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 49%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 51%

    Top three key games: March 5 at Oklahoma City Thunder; March 25 at Golden State Warriors; April 17 vs. Houston Rockets

     

    Uh oh, here come the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Right? Well, hang on a second.

    While the Utah Jazz are fading fast, and the Lakers are now just two games back, it's still a tough road for Los Angeles. There's still plenty of meat left on that bone for a team with a fluctuating appetite for success.

    Of the Lakers' final 10 home games, only five are against winning teams.

    So ultimately it will come down to whether or not the Lakers can win on the road, something they haven't done all year. Half those road games come against teams above .500.

    Here's one scenario:

    Utah splits its final 22 games at home and on the road, so for argument's sake let's say they finish .500 for an overall record of 43-39.

    You could make a conservative argument that Los Angeles will win seven of their final 10 home games. That would put the Lakers at 37 wins, needing to split six of their final 12 road games to match Utah's record.

    Either that, or the Warriors or Rockets could fall flat.

    The Lakers' season may come down to the final three games, all home games against the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets.

10. Portland Trail Blazers

11 of 19

    Remaining games: 11 home, 12 away (19 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 28-31 overall; home (20-10); away (8-21) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 57%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 49%

    Top three key games: March 12 vs. Memphis Grizzlies; March 29 vs. Utah Jazz; April 10 vs. Los Angeles Lakers

     

    The Portland Trail Blazers are done.

    They have, by far, the most difficult schedule remaining of any NBA team. Of their 23 games remaining, 19 are versus teams .500 or above.

    Already 3.5 games back of Utah for the eighth spot, the Trail Blazers would need their southern neighbors to sink drastically for even a hope of a postseason.

    You can essentially eliminate Portland, making it a four-team race for the final three spots out west.

1. Miami Heat

12 of 19

    Remaining games: 12 home, 12 away (10 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 44-14 overall; home (26-3); away (18-11) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 44%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 51%

    Top three key games: March 10 vs. Indiana Pacers; March 27 at Chicago; March 31 at San Antonio

     

    The Miami Heat have the lightest schedule to finish the season of any Eastern Conference team.

    Cruising along with 15 consecutive wins and leading the next-best Pacers by seven games, there is little threat to the Heat's top seed.

    Miami is essentially playing the remainder of the regular season for home-court advantage in the NBA Finals. The meeting at San Antonio at the end of the month should be a good one.

2. Indiana Pacers

13 of 19

    Remaining games: 10 home, 12 away (12 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 38-22 overall; home (25-6); away (13-16) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 49%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 48%

    Top three key games: March 10 at Miami Heat; March 23 at Chicago Bulls; April 14 at New York Knicks

     

    The Pacers are sprinting to chase a train that's already full speed.

    Indiana is not after Miami, though; the second-best team in the east is battling the New York Knicks.

    The Pacers' schedule features 12 road games, six of which are against winning teams. It's very likely that the Pacers, poor on the road, may split those games.

    Staving off the Knicks will come down to how well the Pacers can hold their home court. Six of the team's final home games come against teams with records of .500 or above.

    One of Indiana's final road games is at Madison Square Garden, where the No. 2 spot could be at stake.

3. New York Knicks

14 of 19

    Remaining games: 11 home, 14 away (16 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 36-21 overall; home (21-9); away (15-12) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 51%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 48%

    Top three key games: April 2 at Miami Heat; April 11 at Chicago Bulls; April 14 at Indiana Pacers

     

    The New York Knicks will need Carmelo Anthony and his knee as they battle against the second-toughest schedule to finish a season of any east squad. Additionally, the Knicks play 14 of their final 25 games on the road, where they win just 55 percent of the time.

    Dropping five of six games in mid-February allowed the Pacers to sneak ahead into the second spot. 

    New York has a more difficult finish to the season than the Pacers, and it could cost the Knicks home-court advantage should the two teams meet in the second round.

4. Chicago Bulls

15 of 19

    Remaining games: 10 home, 12 away (10 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 34-26 overall; home (17-14); away (17-12) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 50%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 50%

    Top three key games: March 23 vs. Indiana Pacers; March 27 vs. Miami Heat; April 11 vs. New York Knicks

     

    The Chicago Bulls are just 6-9 since Feb. 1 and currently sit in a tie for the No. 4 seed with the Brooklyn Nets.  

    The Bulls' schedule is especially tough through this current March stretch, as seven of the Bulls' next 10 opponents have records of .500 or better.

    Chicago needs a boost as they battle for positioning and homecourt in the east. Of course when instant relief is on the shelf, it's hard not to reach for it.

    Coach Tom Thibodeau has to play gatekeeper. He was quoted by Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

    “Everyone has to remain patient,’’ Thibodeau once again insisted.

    “We’re 60 games into this now. I think going into the season, we had a lot of question marks. I think we have more answers now. We’ve figured out, I think, who we are. We’re heading down the stretch, we’ve got to continue to improve and then we’ll go from there.’’

    It will be interesting to see how the Bulls handle Rose as the playoffs approach.

5. Brooklyn Nets

16 of 19

    Remaining games: 8 home, 14 away (8 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 34-26 overall; home (20-13); away (14-13) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 45%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 51%

    Top three key games: March 9 vs. Atlanta Hawks; April 4 vs. Chicago Bulls; April 12 at Indiana Pacers

     

    The Brooklyn Nets have floundered a bit of late with a record of 3-4 since the All-Star Break, including a loss at Chicago on March 2.

    As the season heads toward its conclusion, the Nets have the second-easiest schedule of any Eastern Conference team. However the majority of those games are on the road, where the Nets are barely above .500.

    The competition won't be tough, but Brooklyn will need to win on the road in order to overtake the Chicago Bulls for a top-four spot in the east.

6. Atlanta Hawks

17 of 19

    Remaining games: 13 home, 10 away (13 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 33-26 overall; home (18-10); away (15-16) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 50%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 49%

    Top three key games: March 8 at Boston Celtics; March 9 vs. Brooklyn; April 17 at New York Knicks

     

    The Atlanta Hawks came on strong again with a 7-4 February before dropping their first three games in March. Looking ahead, the Hawks still have 13 home games left. They win 64 percent of the time in Atlanta.

    What will hurt Atlanta is its inability to defeat teams with records of .500 or better. The Hawks are just 13-16 against teams with winning records.

7. Boston Celtics

18 of 19

    Remaining games: 11 home, 13 away (11 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 31-27 overall; home (21-9); away (10-18) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 48%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 50%

    Top three key games: March 8 vs. Atlanta Hawks; April 12 at Miami Heat; April 16 vs. Indiana Pacers

     

    The Boston Celtics will be in the playoffs; the Philadelphia 76ers aren't making up eight games in the final stretch of the season.

    In the bunched-up Eastern Conference, the Celtics are just two games out of a top-four spot. As the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Hawks all wobble, the Celtics could realistically earn home court in the first round.

    Boston is 11-4 since Rajon Rondo went down, but all four of those losses came on the road, where the Celtics play 13 of their remaining 24 games.

    If they put together a late-season rally by winning away, it's conceivable the Celtics set themselves up in the first round and advance to a second-round matchup against the Miami Heat.

8. Milwaukee Bucks

19 of 19

    Remaining games: 11 home, 13 away (13 against teams .500 or above)
    Current record: 30-28 overall; home (16-14); away (14-14) 

    Combined winning percentage of remaining opponents: 50%
    Winning percentage of opponents played thus far: 49%

    Top three key games: March 15 vs. Miami Heat; March 22 at Indiana Pacers; April 9 at Miami Heat

     

    It would take an epic collapse for the Milwaukee Bucks to lose its seven-game lead on the Philadelphia 76ers for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

    The Bucks are one of the rare teams that doesn't seem affected by playing at home or on the road. The Bucks are just two wins better in Milwaukee than away, a stat that should help them, as they finish the regular season with 13 of 24 games on the road.

    With four consecutive wins, there's a chance the Bucks push forward, as they're just three games back of the east's No. 4 spot. It won't be easy though, since their schedule features 13 teams with records of .500 or above.

     

    Jimmy Spencer is an NBA Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him @jimmypspencer on Twitter.

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