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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.