The home stretch in the race for NBA playoff positioning begins Thursday, when the All-Star break officially ends and the 2021-22 season resumes. The Los Angeles Clippers have the fewest games remaining (21). The Toronto Raptors have the most (25). Everyone is in between.
Many factors explain how these schedules break down. Different sites calculate the strength and weakness of each program differently. I use Positive Residual, which is the most comprehensive because it takes into account more than the current average win percentage of the remaining opponents.
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Other factors include home/road splits, pros and cons of rest (i.e. when a team enters a particular match after an extra day off from the opponent, or vice versa), and even, if applicable, the altitude at which a game is currently playing.
Add it all up and you get a more informed look at how strong the schedule is left for each team. Below is an overview of the route for the 30 teams, from hardest to easiest slates.
1. The Lakers have an uphill climb: As if it wasn’t bad enough that Anthony Davis is out for maybe the next month, if not more, the Lakers are tied with the Bulls for the toughest remaining schedule. Only 10 of the Lakers’ last 24 games have been at home, and they will have three games in which they are at a disadvantage on rest.
2. Nuggets can race: Denver not only has the easiest remaining schedule, but there’s a chance that Jamal Murray and/or Michael Porter Jr. will return at some point. The Nuggets are just three losses away from a top-four seed.
3. Intense heat at home: Part of the reason the Heat come in with the fifth-easiest remaining schedule is that 15 of their remaining 24 games are at home. It’s tied with Magic, Rockets and Nuggets for the most in the league. Good news for the Heat, who have the second-best home winning percentage in the East this season, behind only Chicago. The Heat also have five games remaining in which they will enjoy a rest advantage over their opponent.
4. Heavy Warriors on the Road: Golden State is the opposite of Miami: It was heavy at home before the All-Star break, and now the Warriors will play 14 of their last 23 games on the road. Golden State is seven games away from Phoenix for the No. 1 seed. The most pressing priority is retaining No. 3 Memphis, who only edge Golden State by two points in the loss column with a schedule remaining much easier.
5. Don’t sleep in Cleveland: The Cavaliers are tied with the 76ers in the loss column for the No. 3 seed in the East, and they are just two games behind the No. 1 and 2 seeds. The Cavs still have 14 home games – the second in the league – and they will have three games in which they will enjoy a rest advantage, a big reason why they currently have the third easiest remaining schedule.