NBA

How rest, road trips, and other factors played out in 2021-22 schedule

The 2021-22 NBA schedule is back to normal:

  • 82 games per team
  • Opening night is the third Tuesday of October
  • The regular season ends in mid-April
  • The Finals are in June
  • The Raptors are in Toronto

The pandemic had the 2019-20 season ending in a bubble after a 20-week hiatus. It created a 72-day offseason (from the last Finals game to the first regular season game) in 2020, down from 131 days the year before. The 2020-21 campaign had the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs playing 40 games over the final 68 days.

On average last season, teams played 15.2 back-to-backs. So more than 21% of their 72 games came without a rest day prior. This season, teams will average 13.5 back-to-backs, with no-rest games (the second of the back-to-backs) accounting for less than 17% of their 82 total.

This season, there are no stretches where a team plays four games in five nights. Last season, there were five.

This season, there are only three stretches - one each for the Grizzlies, Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers - where a team plays eight games in 12 nights. Last season, there were 36, with many of them overlapping.

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So players should be able to stay fresher and healthier. And with an average of 16 breaks of at least two days between games (up from 10 last season), teams should be able to practice more.

Back-to-backs still up from pre-pandemic

Four years ago, an extra week was added to the season. And when it went from 170 to 177 days long, back-to-backs were reduced from 16.4 to 14.4 per team. They were further reduced to 13.3 per team in 2018-19 and just 12.4 per team in the 2019-20 schedule, though the last 21% of that schedule got torn up.

But with the addition of the Play-In Tournament, the regular season now ends on a Sunday instead of a Wednesday. So three of those additional seven days that were added in 2017 have been lost. That's one reason why back-to-backs are back up to 13.5 per team, still a huge drop from where we were seven years ago.

Back-to-backs and games per day, since 2014-15
Season B2B Per team %B2B Games Days GPD
2014-15 580 19.3 23.6% 1,230 170 7.2
2015-16 534 17.8 21.7% 1,230 170 7.2
2016-17 491 16.4 20.0% 1,230 170 7.2
2017-18 433 14.4 17.6% 1,230 177 6.9
2018-19 398 13.3 16.2% 1,230 177 6.9
2019-20* 371 12.4 15.1% 1,230 177 6.9
2020-21 457 15.2 21.2% 1,080 146 7.4
2021-22 406 13.5 16.5% 1,230 174 7.1

* Original schedule
B2B = Back-to-backs
%B2B = Percentage of games that are the second of a back-to-back
Days = From the first day of the season to the last (including All-Star break)
GPD = Games per day

Along with greatly reducing the number of back-to-backs over the last several years, the league has reduced the range in the number of back-to-backs. This season, the range is 12 (six teams) to 15 (four teams), with 20 of the 30 teams having either 13 or 14.

As always, there's a bigger range in the number of games teams play against opponents who played the night before. That range is nine (Denver Nuggets) to 18 (Atlanta Hawks), with just 12 of the 30 teams having either 13 or 14.

The advantage of rest

The Detroit Pistons have just 12 back-to-backs, but for the second game of all 12 of those, their opponent will be rested (having not played the day/night before). And on all 17 occasions where they're playing a team that played the night before, the Pistons themselves will be rested.

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So they have 17 rest-advantage* games and 12 rest-disadvantage^ games. Those make up 35% of Detroit's season, which doesn't have a single game where both teams are playing the second game of a back-to-back.

* Rest advantage = Didn't play the day/night before. Opponent is playing the second game of a back-to-back.

^Rest disadvantage = Playing the second game of a back-to-back. Opponent didn't play the day/night before.
Over the last three seasons, teams are 488-384 (0.560) in rest-advantage games, 324-200 (0.618) at home and 164-184 (0.471) on the road.

The Pistons have the biggest differential between their number of rest-advantage games and rest-disadvantage games. The Hawks (13 vs. 9), New Orleans Pelicans (11 vs. 7) and Indiana Pacers (14 vs. 11) also have differentials of three or more.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Spurs (9 vs. 13), Nuggets (9 vs. 12), Blazers (8 vs. 11), Charlotte Hornets (11 vs. 14), Minnesota Timberwolves (8 vs. 11) and Orlando Magic (9 vs. 12) have negative differentials of three or more.

Two-game series are here to stay

A few of those back-to-backs are two-game series, where two teams play two straight games in the same arena. Having been introduced last season to reduce travel in the condensed schedule, the two-game series are back to make the regular season a little less of a grind.

This season, there will be 23 two-game series in the same arena. There are 10 teams that don't have any, but the Houston Rockets have five, while the LA Clippers and Sacramento Kings have four each. Houston and Sacramento will have two two-game series against each other. The Clippers' four games against the Dallas Mavericks will also be a pair of two-game series, and the same goes for the four games between the Magic and Milwaukee Bucks.

The first two-game series will be in the first seven days of the season, with the Pelicans playing in Minnesota on Saturday, Oct. 23 and Monday, Oct. 25. Twenty of the 23 two-game series have a day off in between, while only three are back-to-backs.

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There are also 16 "home and home" series, where two teams play twice in a row, one game in each other's arena. The Nuggets and New York Knicks lead the way with three home-and-home series each, with the Knicks playing their first (Oct. 22 and 24 against the Magic) on the first weekend of the season. Fifteen of those 16 home-and-home series have a day off in between, while a Knicks home-and-home against the Philadelphia 76ers (Feb. 27 and Mar. 2) has two days off in between.

Short-trip reduction

Related to the two-game series is the reduction in one-game road trips. In the 2019-20 schedule, teams were set to average 10.0 one-game road trips, accounting for 12.2% of their 82-game schedule. With the condensed schedule last season, teams averaged only 4.8 one-game trips, just 6.7% of their 72 games.

One-game trips are up from last season, but not nearly to the level of the '19-20 schedule. This season, teams have an average of 7.1 one-game road trips, which account for just 8.7% of their 82 games. That number is lower when you consider that four of those 214 total one-game trips are the Los Angeles Lakers visiting the Clippers or the Brooklyn Nets visiting the Knicks, and several more are short trips like Golden State-Sacramento, Milwaukee-Chicago, or New York-Philadelphia.

The Hawks lead the league with 12 one-game trips on the schedule, followed by the Sixers (10) and Cleveland Cavaliers (10). The Blazers have just three, with the Pelicans, Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors having just five each.

With the Grammy Awards in L.A. at the end of January (and with the Lakers on a six-game trip at the same time), the Clippers have the longest road trip of the season: Eight games from Jan. 19-31. The Spurs' rodeo trip is eight games, but split (into 5 + 3) by the All-Star break. The Spurs are also one of five teams - the Nuggets, Knicks, Raptors and Miami Heat are the others - with a seven-game trip.

With those two long trips, the Spurs also have two of the six homestands of seven or more games. Their two seven-game homestands begin Jan. 12 (right after the seven-game trip) and Mar. 7. The Golden State Warriors have two of the other four long homestands, with an eight-game stand beginning Oct. 28 and a seven-game stand that starts on Jan. 18. The Heat (seven games starting Mar. 5) and the Washington Wizards (eight games starting Jan. 11) are the other two teams with homestands of seven games or more.

The 20-game mark

A return to a standard, 82-game season allows us to bring back some analysis from two years ago, looking at a team's likelihood to make the playoffs* given how many of its first 20 games it won.

* For the 20 years we're looking back at, making the playoffs meant finishing in the top eight of the conference. Things are different with the Play-In Tournament, but the teams that finish seventh and eighth still have a significant advantage over those that finish ninth and tenth.

Over the last 20 82-game seasons…

Only four of the 106 teams that have won fewer than seven of their first 20 games have gone on to reach the postseason. The last of those was the 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets, who started 6-14, finished as the 6 seed in the East (at 44-38), and actually won a first round series.

On the other end of the spectrum, 92 percent of the 215 teams that have won at least 12 of their first 20 games have gone on to make the playoffs. That translates to about one miss per year, with the 2018-19 Grizzlies (who started 12-8) and the 2017-18 Pistons (the only Eastern Conference team of the last 20 full seasons that has won 14 of its first 20 games and failed to make the playoffs) being the latest two examples.

Wins through 20 games, last 20 full (82-game) seasons
W through 20G East Teams East Playoffs % West Teams West Playoffs %
12 or more 87 79 91% 128 118 92%
11 29 21 72% 24 12 50%
10 35 23 66% 32 12 38%
9 30 18 60% 22 10 45%
8 25 7 28% 22 6 27%
7 33 8 24% 21 2 10%
6 or fewer 61 4 7% 45 0 0%

Tough start for Portland

With those numbers in mind, the Blazers could be under the microscope more than they already are. As the Blazers struggle to build a serious Western Conference contender around Damian Lillard, the point guard's happiness in Portland will continue to be a story line, even though he's under contract for at least two more years.

After a second straight season in the bottom five in defensive efficiency and a second straight first-round exit, the only major change made around Lillard was on the bench, where first-time head coach Chauncey Billups replaces Terry Stotts. And to add to the pressure, Billups and the Blazers will have to deal with the league's toughest first 20 games.

The Blazers will play those 20 games against opponents that had a cumulative winning percentage of 0.542 last season, the highest mark for any team's first 20. Portland's first 20 games include three against the Clippers, and two each against the Nuggets, Sixers and Phoenix Suns. They also have games against the Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers.

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In addition to having the toughest first 20 games in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage from last season, the Blazers are also tied (with New Orleans) for the most back-to-backs (5) in the first 20 games. They have 14 back-to-backs for the season, and six of the 14 are in a 31-day stretch from Oct. 31 to Nov. 30.

The Blazers' chance at recovery could come in December. Beginning with the second game of that sixth back-to-back (Nov. 30), they'll play 15 of 19 at home.

Here are the five toughest schedules over the first 20 games, when you take opponent strength (using average point differential per 100 possessions from last season), location and rest into account…

Portland: +1.5, 10 home, 10 road, 1 rest-advantage, 5 rest-disadvantage
Sacramento: +1.5, 10 home, 10 road, 3 rest-advantage, 3 rest-disadvantage
Orlando: +1.0, 9 home, 11 road, 3 rest-advantage, 3 rest-disadvantage
Indiana: +1.1, 8 home, 12 road, 4 rest-advantage, 4 rest-disadvantage
Denver: +1.1, 11 home, 9 road, 1 rest-advantage, 4 rest-disadvantage

Here are the five easiest schedules for the first 20 games using the same criteria…

L.A. Lakers: -2.0, 12 home, 8 road, 3 rest-advantage, 1 rest-disadvantage
LA Clippers: -1.5, 14 home, 6 road, 2 rest-advantage, 2 rest-disadvantage
Utah: -1.5, 11 home, 9 road, 5 rest-advantage, 1 rest-disadvantage
Brooklyn: -1.9, 10 home, 10 road, 3 rest-advantage, 3 rest-disadvantage
Golden State: -1.3, 12 home, 8 road, 3 rest-advantage, 2 rest-disadvantage

Games 5-9 for the Lakers (Oct. 27 - Nov. 4) - where they play the Oklahoma City Thunder (x 2), the Rockets (x 2) and the Cavs - is the easiest five-game stretch for any team across the entire schedule, according to the same (opponent/location/rest) criteria. The toughest is Games 9-13 (Nov. 6-13) for the Heat, where they play Utah twice, along with road games against the Nuggets, Lakers and Clippers.

John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs

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