82 games. 30 teams. It should be simple to make an NBA schedule that is moderately close to balanced.
But balance isn’t usually the case when it comes to the schedule and the Sacramento Kings, and there are plenty of reasons for the discrepancy.
For a team like the Kings, the release of the new schedule is an annual reminder that A) they play in a small market, B) they’ve missed the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons and C) they play on the west coast.
When the 2019-20 regular-season schedule dropped a little over a week ago, there was a collective grown from Kings fans on social media that could be heard across the globe. A budding young team, fresh off their best season since the 2005-06 season, earned one nationally televised game (TNT or ESPN), and it wasn’t even on TNT.
A ninth-place finish in the Western Conference wasn’t worth more than one real nationally televised game. The Phoenix Suns, who finished at 19-63 last season, “earned” one TNT game.
Nationally televised games aren’t a barometer for how good a team is. Heck, the Charlotte Hornets got a single national game and they finished with an identical 39-43 record as the Kings last season, but lost their lone All-Star when guard Kemba Walker joined the Boston Celtics.
Making it to a national audience is nice, but it has no value in the win/loss column. A deep dive into the Kings’ schedule shows a few issues that might actually affect the team’s ability to compete for a playoff spot.
Sacramento is tied for the third-most miles traveled on the season, hitting the 50,000-mile mark, not including the 17,000-plus round-trip miles the team will venture on their trip to India during the preseason.
A further breakdown shows that travel is an issue for a lot of teams out west. Here is a breakdown of miles traveled by conference, with the west shown in red and the eastern conference shown in black.
Ten of the top twelve teams in miles traveled are Western Conference clubs. You could write it off as a geographical issues. Nine of the bottom ten teams in miles traveled are from the Eastern Conference, including the seven teams with the fewest amount of miles traveled.
Stangely, both Los Angeles teams travel the fewest miles on the season out of any Western Conference team. The Lakers also rank first in total nationally televised games, including TNT, ABC, ESPN and NBA TV with 43 contests. The Clippers are tied for third with 38 games on the national schedule.
Teams like the Pelicans, Thunder and Mavericks, who are geographical centered on the map of the United States, ranked third, fourth and fifth in miles traveled by Western Conference teams.
Some of the glaring issues with the Kings’ schedule centered around at least one anomaly. The Kings typically make a single trip to Florida, playing both the Magic and Heat during the same swing. This season they make two trips to Florida, which helps rack up the miles.
On the plus side, the Kings do not have a single six-game road trip this season and even their five-game trip is spaced out over 10 days.
Another way to break down the Kings’ chances this season is to look at strength of schedule. Using Las Vegas projected win totals and over/under lines, Sacramento plays the sixth-most difficult schedule in the NBA with a projected win total against of .513.
A lot of that has to do with the Kings’ division, where they’ll face the Clippers (projected 54.5 wins), Lakers (projected 50.5 wins) and Warriors (projected 49.5 wins) four times each. The only break is that they also play the Suns four times, although even Phoenix is projected to win 29.5 games, an increase of more than ten wins from last year.
Normally there is an early moment in the schedule you can point to that the Kings have to survive. There are a few of those this season, including the early Oct/Nov schedule, as well as an extremely difficult month of April.
Sacramento has the 10th-most difficult opening month of the campaign with a projected winning percentage against of .523. The schedules for December, January and March are all manageable, including a stretch with 10 out of 12 games at home during mid-Dec. and early Jan.
Their pre All-Star break versus post All-Star break schedule is close to even, but their finish in April is brutal. In the final month of the season, the Kings face a barrage of quality Western Conference opponents with a combined projected with total of .555.
The Kings’ April is the third-most difficult final month for any NBA team. Sacramento finishes the season with a back-to-back against the Lakers at Staples, followed by the season finale at home against the Warriors.
There is one last crazy chart to look at. If you break down the rest advantage for every NBA team, the Kings actually have a fairly balanced schedule. They play 20-22 games with a rest advantage and 20-22 with a rest disadvantage. The remaining 38-42 games are even.
Overall, the Kings travel too much, their final month of the season is brutal and they aren’t going to be highlighted on any national networks this season. They need to get off to a fast start and have a buffer down the stretch if they are going to survive the final month of the season and snap their long playoff drought.
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None of this is unexpected. Despite a breakout season, the Kings are still the Kings when it comes to a national audience, distance traveled and strength of schedule. The only way to break the cycle is by winning games and forcing the league to take notice.
H/T to both Jared Dubin and Ed Kupfer for graphic breakdowns via Twitter.