Miami has the easiest schedule? Yes. But it makes sense.
We tend not to take “strength of schedule” into account much when talking about the NBA. That’s because the schedule is balanced — every team will play every other team in its conference four times and every team in the other conference twice (with mild tweaks, that would equal 86). Plus, unlike a short football season, the long NBA season kind of evens itself out.
But Ed Kupfer, whose day job is as an advanced stats guru for the Houston Rockets, had some fun with ESPN’s projected records for teams for this upcoming season and created a strength of schedule graph (which he tweeted out). (Hat tip to Tom Haberstroh of ESPN’s Heat Index.)
And Miami had the easiest schedule of anyone.
Followed by Indiana, Brooklyn, Boston and Chicago. The hardest schedule is the New Orleans Hornets, followed by Sacramento, Phoenix and Portland.
And this makes total sense.
Think about it. With Chicago down because Derrick Rose is out, the East is just not that deep with great teams. ESPN projects Miami with 60 wins, followed by Boston and Indiana with 50 down to the Hawks getting the eight seed at 40-42. (You can quibble with ESPN if you don’t like the projections.)
So Miami gets the easier conference and doesn’t have to play the best team in the conference even once (itself). Of course their schedule is easier. It’s also why the Lakers and Thunder have the easiest schedules in the West on this graph.
Also notice on the color coded graph (black for East, red for West) that all the teams in the West basically have it harder than the East, just because as a conference it is deeper (ESPN has Utah and Minnesota tying for the final playoff spot at 41-41; I’ll say now that is too low and that it will probably take 44-45 wins to get the last playoff spot in the West.)
It’s all a kind of fun, moot exercise. But if you want to hate Miami for this, too, go ahead. Nobody is stopping you.