The NBA Schedule was released earlier today and the New Orleans Pelicans are probably pretty happy about how it turned out.
In total the team will be on national television eight times with six of those appearances on ESPN and two, including DeMarcus Cousins visiting the Sacramento Kings as an opponent for the first time, on TNT on October 26th. Three of those eight national broadcasts are at home including the home opener against the defending champion Golden State Warriors on October 20th (happy birthday Mom) on ESPN.
One more important note on the television schedule, both the home opener and an April 4th matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies on ESPN feature the seldom popular 8:30 pm local start times. The season ends by hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday April 11th. While not currently on the docket of national television games, it is certainly a candidate to earn a late season switch to ESPN if the Pelicans are in the playoff hunt.
There’s no other way to put this, the first six games present a substantial challenge. On the road to start is hard because the Memphis Grizzlies are a veteran team that will be rather healthy for opening night. Next up, none other than the defending champions. A west coast swing with a young Los Angeles Lakers team ripe to pull off upsets since tanking isn’t in the cards yet, an always tough trip to Portland, and the emotional return of Boogie to Sacramento. Even penciling in wins over both the Lakers and Kings puts the team at 2-3 on the plane ride home to host LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Things could go far better though. Healthy or not, the Pelicans match-up very well against the Grizzlies and defeating Memphis on opening night would not qualify at all as a shock. The home crowd could carry the team to an upset over Golden State. Struggles in the Moda Center could be ended thanks to pure momentum. Start 3-3 or better and I am rather confident things will get rolling quickly.
With all due respect to the Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers, the Pelicans do not play another elite NBA opponent after the Cavs until they face the Oklahoma City Thunder 17 games into the season. They also have just one back-to-back in that span when they travel to Chicago, a team everyone including Bulls fans expects to be in the lottery. It is critical that the team start strong and build positive energy into Thanksgiving.
Most difficult stretch
Just before and after Thanksgiving is the most difficult stretch in the schedule. OKC, San Antonio, a road trip including Golden State, Utah, and Portland that ends with home games against Golden State (again) and the Denver Nuggets encompass November 20th through December 6th. On the plus side, four of those nine opponents will be coming off a game the previous night.
Odds and ends
New Orleans has 13 back-to-backs this season, they play opponents on back-to-backs 12 times. The longest road trip is just four games and occurs twice; once in November and again in December. They play on the same day the Saints do just once, on October 22nd. The Saints will play at the Green Bay Packers at noon and the Pelicans at the Los Angeles Lakers at 8:30 PM.
Mardi Gras is early this year (February 13th) and the Pelicans players and staff will be out of the Crescent City for much of February including peak parade season. After an east coast swing through Philadelphia, Brooklyn and Detroit, they return home to host the Los Angeles Lakers on Ash Wednesday. All-Star Break begins right afterward and the Pelicans will have eight days off before getting back at it on February 23rd hosting the Miami Heat. Hopefully both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins will be headed to Los Angeles to represent the team for the 2018 All-Star Game on February 18th.
March features a massive home stand spread out over two weeks featuring seven home games and just one quick out-and-back to face the San Antonio Spurs on March 15th. The last stretch of the season is challenging; eight of the Pelicans final nine opponents made the playoffs in 2016-17.
The schedule was never going to be easy. Playing the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers three times a piece, when both teams are expected to fall in the Western Conference cellar with Sacramento, is a mild disappointment. They also play the Denver Nuggets (twice on the road) and Oklahoma City Thunder (twice at home) three times while getting the rest of the Western Conference four times each. The beginning, around Thanksgiving, and the last couple weeks stand out as the most likely opportunities to falter.
One other important note. The Pelicans social media team unveiled a new hashtag with the schedule release, #DoItBig. This is a substantial upgrade over #WinTheNight and even a modest one over the original #TakeFlight that was launched with the Pelicans rebrand. Will Guillory of NOLA.com has an important recommendation for game operations to implement the new slogan into the pregame.