NBA schedule makers were unkind to the New Orleans Pelicans this year. Among the contenders for a lower Western Conference playoff spot (roughly the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz, and Minnesota Timberwolves) just Minnesota faces a more difficult schedule according to strength of schedule via Jared Dubin. Ed Kupfer calculated the rest advantage for teams throughout the season as well; only the Los Angeles Lakers fair worse in the entire conference.
NBA 2016-17: Team's average monthly rest advantage over their opponents. Tms displayed in order of overall rest adv. pic.twitter.com/1iadQTlr84— Ed Küpfer (@EdKupfer) August 12, 2016
New Orleans plays a total 17 back-to-backs throughout the season, the exact same number as last season. However, they catch opponents on the back end of a back-to-back while not on one themselves, just 10 times. Of those 10 occasions just once, against the Chicago Bulls on April 2nd, is the opponent a non-playoff team from 2016.
The Pelicans will play rested opponents on the SEGABABA (SEcond GAme of a BAck to BAck) 14 times. Additionally, New Orleans faces opponents on 3 days rest (with just 1 day of rest themselves) four times. Like their back-to-back luck, three of the four games feature playoff teams; the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 4th, the Indiana Pacers on January 16th, and the Toronto Raptors on March 8th.
Add it all together and the Pelicans face a rest advantage disadvantage in eight more games than they enjoy an advantage; roughly 10% of the season. Ouch.
The schedule finds few bright spots in the conference scheduling as well. New Orleans will face Golden State, Portland, and Oklahoma City four times a piece in addition to the always difficult Southwestern Division opponents. Of the eight Western Conference playoff teams from last season the Pelicans play 31 of 32 possible games. The opponents in the West they face just three times are the Los Angeles Clippers (twice at home), Minnesota Timberwolves (twice at home), Utah Jazz (twice on the road, both times a SEGABABA), and Sacramento Kings (twice on the road).
January features a long string of Eastern Conference opponents, where New Orleans has long struggled in the middle of the winter. From December 30th to January 23rd the Pelicans face 11 consecutive Eastern Conference opponents including a five game road trip through the Northeast and Midwest. On the bright side, the team will spend four consecutive days in New York playing the Knicks on January 9th and then having a couple days in the city before facing off with the Brooklyn Nets on January 12th.
One positive surrounding January is an absence of back-to-backs. The Pelicans will have at least one day rest for every game played from December 23rd to January 31st. If Alvin Gentry and company can survive a brutal November (unlike last season) there's the potential for a run in the winter months.
Once again the NBA has failed to properly account for Mardi Gras season. The first game after the All-Star Break, on Thursday February 23rd against the Houston Rockets and the first visit back for Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, take place against the Krewes of Babylon, Chaos, and Muses. It is the only home game that takes place between February 10th and Ash Wednesday on March 1st. To many local Pelican fans there could be no worse night to host a home game than the Thursday before Mardi Gras.
Overall the schedule is much more difficult than last year and still features an absolutely nasty opening few weeks. It is easy to expect Alvin Gentry's seat to grow very warm by Thanksgiving if the tough schedule leads to another slow start. Unlike last year, the Pelicans are rarely on national TV with just five total appearances on TNT or ESPN. (Minnesota, for comparison, racks up 10 in Tom Thibodeau's debut season.) That lack of spotlight could be good if the Pelicans improve significantly to fly under the radar, or welcome if they toil away again in mediocrity that has been the hallmark of this franchise in the last five seasons.