With only two "easy' months, it's going to be a tough battle to nab a playoff spot
Even though it is not an "unofficial holiday" à la the NFL schedule release day, the NBA's version is a nice break from the monotony of the offseason. One can only get so excited about Drew Gooden changing teams again (Milwaukee becomes his ninth) or about a Tony Battie free-agent signing, so the release of the schedule reminds people that the season is less than three months away. So without further ado, here's a month-by-month breakdown of the Sixers' schedule:
October/November - 18 games (8 home, 10 road)
We get the luxury of opening the season against the Miami Heat on Oct. 27, and I'll be the first to call it....WE WILL BEAT MIAMI TO START 1-0. Stop laughing, I'm serious and this is why: Miami will be in the second game of a road back-to-back after playing in an emotional opening game at Boston. Early in the season will be the easiest time to beat them as they will still be getting used to playing together and won't be the same team we see in April and May. Also, Miami's first three games are (in order): Boston, Philadelphia, and Orlando. We are clearly the trap game out of those three and I just have a feeling that the Heat will fall victim to the trap.
The rest of October and November isn't exactly a cakewalk after the Miami game. From Oct. 30 to Nov. 26, we play four home games vs. 10 road games. That's not what you want to start the season with when you have a team with a new head coach, a new high-profile rookie, a new (but returning) point guard, and a former All-Star playing a new position. But that's life in the NBA and we just need to make the best of it.
December - 15 games (6 home, 9 road)
The beginning of the month gives us our longest homestand of the season which is all of four games. We also get our only game on TNT this season during that homestand as Boston pays us a visit on Dec. 9. That's about all the good news for the month as we then embark on an eight-game road trip (seven games in December) that includes our first West Coast trip. We play the three Finals runners-ups from the past three years in addition to Chicago, Denver, Golden State, and Phoenix. If you're counting, six of the seven games are against 2010 playoff teams and the Sixers get to spend Christmas Day in a plane on the way to Denver. Merry Christmas!!!
January - 14 games (9 home, 5 road)
With 20 of the first 34 games on the road, the schedule from January on is decidedly in our favor. January may be the most relaxed month of the season as the games are spaced out more than any other month. At one point, the Sixers play just two games (both at home) in the span of eight days. There are only two road games against '10 playoff teams and just two back-to-backs. The 76ers also get Utah, Phoenix, and Denver at home in the midst of east coast road trips which come after they have cross-country flights.
February - 12 games (5 home, 7 road)
The shortest month becomes even shorter due to All-Star weekend (Feb. 18-20) which creates a six-day break for the Sixers. However, the schedule before the break is brutal with six of the nine games coming on the road and two of the three home games against championship contenders (Orlando and San Antonio). The three games after the break appear easy (home vs. Washington and Detroit, at Cleveland) but it would have been nice if the league inserted those games at some point pre All-star break. Whereas I had a good feeling about January, I have a bad feeling about February and fear that this is the month that we may go on one of those five or six game losing streaks.
March - 16 games (8 home, 8 road)
With four back-to-backs and only a single three-day rest, March is clearly the most hectic month. The Sixers take their last west coast road trip but also have road games vs. Miami and Chicago. The home schedule isn't much either as Dallas, Oklahoma City, Boston, Atlanta, Houston and others visit Philadelphia. While April is commonly seen as the month for playoff positioning, March is the month where teams make their playoff pushes. The trade deadline is usually in mid-to-late February so the players you see on the court in March are the ones who will represent the team for the next two months and hopefully beyond.
April - 7 games (5 home, 2 road)
The two road games are against '10 playoff teams but the rest of the schedule is relatively easy. Four out of the five home games are against teams that didn't make the playoffs while Game 81 with Orlando could be a gimme if the Magic rest their players in anticipation of the playoffs. Last year we only had one win in seven April games but if everything holds to form, then we could escape next April with just one loss in seven games. If we do lose just one game in April, hopefully it comes in Game 82 vs. Detroit as we rest our starters and get them ready for "the real season": the postseason.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it; this is a pretty tough schedule as only January and April are months that one would consider "easy". One advantage the Eastern Conference teams have over the Western Conference teams is that they are concentrated in a closer area for the most part. The Bucks and the Bulls are the only Eastern Conference teams that are not in the Eastern Time Zone while the Western Conference has five in the Pacific, three in the Mountain, and seven in the Central. That has a bigger impact than you think because Eastern Conference teams don't have to adjust to time differences as often as Western Conference teams do. Another advantage for the Sixers is that they play just three games each against Miami, Chicago, Charlotte, and Detroit while playing four games vs. every other Eastern Conference team. That's three fewer games against last year's playoff teams (MIA, CHI, CHA) that we won't have to deal with. Hopefully that, along with the overall team changes, is enough to extend our season into May, if not beyond. (Hey one can dream!)