Rest, scheduling, and efficiency in the Eastern Conference | Magic Basketball

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Mar 14

Rest, scheduling, and efficiency in the Eastern Conference

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

People all over the country have weighed in on Orlando’s struggles. Some have cited poor effort, poor defense or Dwight Howard’s foul trouble. Has anyone mentioned Matt Winick and his computer? Matt Winick, one of David Stern’s minions, is the NBA’s official schedule maker. This year, his scheduling of Orlando has been black magic.

When Major League Baseball starts in April, teams typically play each other with the same amount of rest. Sometimes, a team has a day off before starting a series, but usually both teams are in the same scenario. Then, they play two, three, or four games against each other before switching opponents. In the National Football League, teams usually have six days rest before playing, with the exception of teams playing on Monday, Thursday, or Saturday.

The NBA schedule is much more variable. For example, the Magic will play their third game in four days when they take on the Lakers tonight at Staples Center. This report looks at scheduling oddities for the Magic and the teams they are chasing in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Chicago, and Miami).

There are discrepancies regarding the impact of rest on efficiency in NBA games. NBAstuffer has a graph on their site with results of their study and a similar discussion on APBRmetrics produced slightly different numbers. The numbers from NBAstuffer are used in this analysis because the results were updated much more recently. Please note, neither study shows results exclusively for three days rest. NBAstuffer uses “rested at least 3 days” and the APBR forum study uses “3-4 Days Rest.”

The results from both studies are shown below:

3 in 4 BB – Team played a game, had a day off, and then played games on consecutive days
4 in 5 – Team played a back-to-back, had one day off, and then played another back-to-back

The numbers vary, but one trend is clear: playing a back-to-back is a severe disadvantage. Surprisingly, both studies show efficiency improves when teams play on one day rest instead of two.

The Magic has played the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference 10 times this season, and their record against these teams is 4-6. Here is a look at Orlando’s rest and results in these games:

Orlando has been less rested in all 10 games so far (they will when they host Chicago on April 10th). They even played two games (10/29 @ Miami and 12/1 @ Boston) in the dreaded back to back scenario, but never faced an opponent who played the night before. The Bulls have played six games this year on three days rest, and two of them have been against Orlando.

On average, the Magic played these games on a full day less rest than their opponents (0.9 days vs. 1.9 days). As discussed previously, the studies show one day off is actually a better scenario than two days off. The expected differences, unadjusted for venue and opponent, show an expected efficiency discrepancy of -0.19 points per game for Orlando against the top three teams in the East. The actual efficiency difference per game for Orlando in these games turned out to be -1.31.

The ten games against the best Eastern Conference teams represent about 1/8th of Orlando’s schedule so it is essential to look at other games on the schedule, too.

Below is a graph detailing the Big Four’s (Orlando, Miami, Boston, and Chicago) schedule breakdown by days off since their last game (through March 13th).

Orlando has played more games on one day rest than the other teams, especially Chicago. Boston, an old team, has played the fewest times on consecutive days. Boston and Chicago have both played 13 games on two days rest, more than twice as many times as Orlando.

The studies show two days rest is basically a neutral condition, so this shouldn’t be considered an advantage. The Miami Heat check in about average in all three categories. An analysis using only this data shows Orlando has played a marginally more favorable schedule than the other beasts in the East.

Now, let’s look in depth at back to backs over the entire season:

The Bulls play four more back-to-back situations than the Magic this year, but six fewer on the road. Furthermore, Orlando plays more 3 in 4 BB games than their stiffest competition. The Heat and Celtics have nearly identical schedules in regards to fatigue. The Magic play four more back-to-back games on the road than their closest rival in the standings, Miami. Take a look at the current playoff positions. Would Stan Van Gundy like to have a half game lead on Miami right now and trail Chicago by just two games?

The final schedule variable we will compare is opponents rest:

By this measure, it appears Orlando is at a distinct disadvantage. Using league averages on NBAstuffer, I calculated the unadjusted expected cumulative advantage for teams playing opponents on the final half of a back-to-back. In Tom Thibodeau’s first season, the Bulls play 20 games against extremely fatigued squads. Their unadjusted efficiency differential in these games is +36, and the Celtics and Miami both clock in with a +23.4 efficiency differential. Meanwhile, the Magic’s expected efficiency differential is only +16.

Finally, NBAstuffer shows the Magic and Celtics both faced six teams playing their third game in four nights. Miami plays twice as many games versus teams playing their third game in four nights than Boston or Orlando. Shockingly, Chicago plays three times more than Orlando or Boston. Again, using league averages, the expected efficiency difference for Orlando’s and Boston’s opponents’ is -11.4. The Heat had a +22.8 advantage and the Bulls netted +34.2. To be clear, some games count as both back to backs and 3 in 4 BB.

Every NBA team plays their final regular season game on April 13th, assuring Orlando’s first playoff game will come against an equally rested opponent. Remember, this isn’t a team fighting for the eight playoff spot in the East; they are virtually guaranteed home court advantage in round one. Orlando has a MVP candidate, a 0.627 winning percentage, and just as many expected wins as the Boston Celtics. Orlando may not be playing great, but let’s see what happens when the Magic face other elite teams on equal rest. Don’t be shocked if Orlando puts together another magical postseason.

22 comments
guest
guest

The "chaos" is resolved on the court. You're justifying the record 65 games into the season with numbers that were established before a single game was played. Perhaps at the end of the season we should adjust everyone's record by some "strength of schedule" multiplier. Would that "bring order" to things?

I must confess, I'm a life-long Chicagoan and a Bulls fan. I watched the Bulls become dominant with Jordan, I watched them struggle post-Jordan, and I've watched this new Bulls team push back towards the top. I've seen too much good and bad basketball ON THE COURT to buy into a schedule analysis. The conference champ is not crowned (or encumbered) by the schedule makers. The conference champ crowns themselves over 82 games. That's how order is brought things.

You must love the college football system. ;-)

guest
guest

I think you guys need to ease up from the spreadsheets a little and focus more on what's been happening on the court. These stats and colors are impressive on paper. But drawing conclusions from them is just meaningless when you consider the caliber of the 4 teams you're comparing. Come on man, these 4 teams have some of the best players in the league today. Their records are based on game-by-game performances, period.

It sounds like you are using the stats to justify the Magic having the worse record of the 4 teams. If I were a Magic fan, I'd sure hope my team didn't read this.

Adud44
Adud44

yet we beat all of them..... shut up

Brian
Brian

Concerning Chicago, how many games did they play in which they were on their second night of a B2B (or some variation thereof) and they played against another team that was on their second night of a B2B? I also like Backell's point of them playing the most rested teams...

frankcs
frankcs

I'm new at this. but it is good to note that more games in a week's time frame takes more of a toll. If you notice the article says nothing about 4in5. That is 4 games in 5 days. Boston, Miami, and Orlando each have 1, while Chicago has 3 and other teams may have 4 and even 5 like Milwaukee.

Serhat Ugur
Serhat Ugur

Matt, Brian thanks for the analysis guys. Not sure whether you included the link for this analysis but it does a good job clarifying the all those stuff. http://www.nbastuffer.com/2010-2011_NBA_Schedule_Rest_Days_Analysis.html here are all rest day numbers for own and opponents available. Make sure that it is something I publish just a few hours after the schedule got released in every August.

Backell
Backell

Actually it isn't. The Bulls have 11 games scheduled over the entire season where the are facing a team at the United Center where they are facing a team who is on the second end of a back to back according to the numbers at stat stuffer. I think the confusion is combining 3 in 4 and BTB's into a single number that can be duplicated.

It should also be mentioned that the BTB doesn't have to mean that both games are on the road. A team can have a home game followed up by a game at the UC. It only means the second game of a BTB is on the road, not the first.

Backell
Backell

What you don't account for is the other end of the specturm. The Bulls also play the most "rested" teams, playing 23 teams that have at least 2 days rest compared to Orlando's 15. It all evens out one way or another.

Backell
Backell

It seems that every team has advantages and disadvantages. The Bulls have the most back to backs, but have more of them at home and catch more teams on the traveling end of a back to back. Essentially every team has weird stretches and rough stretches. They all play 82 games in the same amount of time though.

Realstic
Realstic

Why are you taking the luxury of including Orlando in a "Big 4" when they are 6 games behind? Seems like we have a big 3 in the East this year and that is it. I live in Orlando and I can truly say that the excuse driven attitude of SVG has even trickled down to the bloggers.

Juan
Juan

This is fantastic, I always felt the Magic got the worst match-ups when it came to playing rested teams this season.

Greg Weeda
Greg Weeda

This whole article is BS. The graph shows that teams play best with a single day's rest. By that rationale the Magic have had that advantage 7 of 10 games. Their opponents have had the advantage of having a single day's rest 4 of 10 times.

Michael Smith
Michael Smith

Right... All those magical Magic title runs... oh wait.

The Bulls have played better than most of the NBA this year, especially against the Heat and Magic. Not sure if HA is a Magic Homer, a Bulls Hater or just desperate to make up something to get published, but this was pathetic. ESPN... fire this fool. His analysis is about as good as a 10 year olds.

TimJ
TimJ

Thanks, so 20 out of 82 games. I got the road thing because of the label on the data (B2B On Road).

TimJ
TimJ

Sorry, I'm even more confused now. Take Chicago and the number 20. Does that mean 20 games at the United Center where the opponent was on the second leg of a B2B? Or is it for either leg of a B2B?

TimJ
TimJ

Please clarify the final graph. Is that for games where the named team is at home and the opponent is on the back half of a back to back?

Right under the graph you mention the cumulative advantage of playing opponents on the second leg, but I wasn't 100% sure it was related.

Royr_rhodes
Royr_rhodes

The bulls have the most back tp back games 28 is that fair????

Cad2010
Cad2010

I liked the list of games and the different days' rest against the teams ahead of us, but I would like to see a comparison of our whole schedule this season to see the the game results against the difference in rest. I think that an overall comparison would be more telling than just the results of the teams ahead of us.

I looked for that on NBAstuffer, but couldn't find it. Do you have a link?

DSMok1
DSMok1

Which is why we should use rest-adjusted efficiency ratings, eh Matt? I haven't updated them for a while, though.

My numbers are for a longer time period than NBAstuffer's; I believe they are more accurate because of the larger sample size.

Backell
Backell

oops. My bad it is 20. Still doesn't mean both are on the road though.

Adud44
Adud44

seeding doesn't matter in the east.... the year the year the celtics won the celtics were the #4 seed.. the year the magic went they were #3, last year the celtics were #3 so ur point makes no sense.. and they call it the 4 because its 8 teams in the playoffs and that would be the top half dummy

Greyberger
Greyberger

three years vs. one year, right? This topic is begging for a in-depth analysis, hopefully before the release of next season's schedule. This kind of thing is fascinating to me.