The NBA schedule release has fans excited for the upcoming season. Even though games are months away, there are already winners and losers, and the Houston Rockets drew the short stick.
With Thursday's NBA schedule release, the Houston Rockets got the short end of the national television stick. Only four of their games will be nationally televised, and three of the four will be on NBATV, with one mid-January game against the Kings being their only game broadcast on ESPN and none on TNT.
While national television games don’t matter competitively, back-to-backs do, and the Rockets were handed an absolutely brutal slate. All told, the Rockets have 13 back-to-backs, totaling 26 games and making up nearly a third of their entire schedule.
According to a 2015 study, during the 2013-14 season and the early part of the 2014-15 season, in the second game of a back-to-back, teams won 44.4% of the time, compared to 51.7% in the first game. The overall win-percentage in the NBA is always 50%, making a 5.6% drop pretty astounding.
The Rockets 1st Game of Back-to-backs is grueling
The Rockets' opponents in their first games of back-to-backs are particularly daunting. They play the Grizzlies, Suns twice, Hawks, Bulls, Pelicans twice, Clippers, Wizards, Raptors, Nuggets, Spurs, and Cavaliers. Nine of the eleven teams made at least the play-in last season, and only the Spurs (23.5) have a lower over/under total wins than the Rockets’ 25.5. In fact, the Wizards, who have the next lowest over/under total of 35.5, are still projected to be around 10 games better than the Rockets.
The Celtics, at 55.5 wins, have the highest over/under win total of any team, but the average over/under wins total in the Rockets' first game of a back-to-back is 45 wins. If the Spurs are taken out of the equation, it jumps up to 46.75, and if both the Spurs are Wizards are removed, it’s a robust 47.77. Needless to say, the Rockets winning four or five of these matchups would be an incredible feat.
The Rockets 2nd night of back-to-backs eases up a little
On the second night of back-to-backs, the road gets easier for the Rockets, but there is far more uncertainty over the quality of their opponent. The Rockets play the Bucks, Clippers, Thunder twice, Warriors twice, Celtics, Jazz, Lakers, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Spurs, and Knicks. The Jazz, Lakers, and Knicks over/under win totals haven’t been listed, but it’s likely that the Lakers and Knicks will improve this offseason, and the Jazz will become demonstrably worse.
If the Lakers, Knicks, and Jazz are removed from the equation, the Rockets’ opponents on the second night of a back-to-back are projected to win 42.8 games. Unfortunately for the Rockets, their two match-ups with the Thunder, who are also at 25.5 wins, could go Oklahoma City’s way just due to scheduling.
The Rockets’ schedule didn’t do them any favors with such a grueling slate of back-to-backs. Most of their most winnable games come on the second night when they’re at a disadvantage. Their five contests between the Thunder, Spurs, and Jazz are the most winnable games, but that only makes up a fifth of the total of their back-to-backs, and the Spurs are the only ones they face on the first night. Over 26 back-to-back contests, there’s a real chance the Rockets limp to a 4-22 record. While that won’t be good for their league standings, it will help them in the lottery, which is a silver lining for some, and an abomination for others.