Believe it or not, even with an 82 game schedule, all NBA schedules are not equal. For instance, last year, the New Orleans Hornets had the most difficult schedule in the entire NBA. The single greatest contributing factor to that is being in the Southwest Division, the toughest division in the league. Everyone in the Southwest finished .500 or better, except the Hornets. With Dwight Howard coming to Houston, the division has become even tougher.
First, I want to break down how I see the Western Conference. There are three or four defined championship contenders. San Antonio, OKC, LAC, and Houston. I personally trust Houston more than I do the Clippers, but that has a lot to do with age. Beyond those four I think nearly everyone concedes that Memphis and Golden State should be near locks for the playoffs. On the other end of the spectrum; Phoenix, Sacramento, and Utah are considered the worst teams right now in the Western Conference by most. Then you have those battling for the final two playoff spots. The Pelicans, Nuggets, Lakers, Mavericks, Blazers, and Timberwolves. I do not honestly expect Portland and Minnesota to be competing as the season comes to a close.
As Michael McNamara outlined here, there is some flexibility in the schedule for our other Western Conference foes. While the Pelicans will play every division team four total times, they will play six Western Conference teams four times and four Western Conference teams three times. Two of those will be in New Orleans twice, two of those will be on the road twice. You can see the entire schedule here.
Thankfully the league found it in their hearts to give New Orleans all of the lower tiered teams (Utah, Phoenix, Sacramento) four times. Further, of the three times New Orleans plays the Lakers, two of those occasions will be in November. Likely before Kobe comes back from the ruptured Achilles he suffered in April. Also, the Pelicans will only need to travel to Golden State once. While the Warriors were an impressive 28-13 at home, they were also only 19-22 on the road. Finally, each trip to Denver comes with at least one rest day previous and each game begins a road trip. This will allow the Pelicans to fly out the day prior to the game to get more acclimated to the altitude.
The biggest bonus in my opinion is how the season begins. In the first 15 games the Pelicans will see Utah, Phoenix, Philadelphia, and the Lakers twice. The first meeting with the Lakers will be in New Orleans and LA will be coming from the front half of a back-to-back against Houston (on TNT). Also in the opening stretch the Pelicans will see Orlando, Charlotte, and Cleveland. The toughest games to begin the season will be against Indiana, @ Memphis (back of back-to-back), and @ San Antonio. A start of 10-5 is not beyond the realm of possibility. That is just the kind of confidence this team needs to get things started on the right foot.
The schedule appears easier than last year's schedule. It also is easiest out of the gate (when the rotation/roles need to be established) and in March (while we all recover from Mardi Gras). Speaking of Mardi Gras, on Mardi Gras Day if you survive, the Pelicans will be playing the Lakers at 9:30pm in Los Angeles. Also, instead of an Ash Wednesday game the city gets a couple days to recuperate before the Pelicans play again on Friday the 7th against Milwaukee.
The Pelicans ultimately need to outperform the Lakers, Mavs, Blazers and Timberwolves while competing with Denver. Snatching the upset on occasion will be greatly appreciated as well. But this schedule is much easier than what it could have been, especially if New Orleans would have only faced Phoenix, Utah, or Sacramento only three times. Training camp is only a couple months away.