The NBA released its schedule for the seeding round when the season returns in Orlando at the end of July. Each team will play eight games to determine their position in the playoffs. Some teams will be going home early and others have their sights on the NBA playoffs. Let’s take a look at the three teams with the toughest schedule for Orlando.
Opponents: MIA, OKC, SAS, POR, UTA, LAL, LAC, TOR
Toughest Matchups: LAL, LAC, TOR, MIA
It’s a good thing Nikola Jokic is in the best shape of his life because he and the Nuggets have their work cut out for them. Denver has one of the tougher draws for the seeding schedule. Not only do they have to play four top 4 teams from each conference, but after that you’ve got games against the Jazz, Thunder, Blazers and Spurs. Portland is the scariest of the non-playoff teams and the Spurs have the best coach in basketball.
All of this is particularly concerning when you consider how close the teams in the West standings are right now. The Nuggets only have 1.5 games on the Jazz, 2.5 on OKC and HOU, so there is very little margin for error. Denver could finish as the No. 2 seed if things go well. If things don’t go well? The Nuggets very well could drop to the No. 6 seed. They should be used to this having dealt with the tough Western Conference grind for a while now.
Opponents: LAL, MIA, ORL, BOS, MEM, MIL, PHI, DEN
Toughest Matchups: LAL, BOS, MIL, DEN
Talk about having to face top 4 teams in each conference, the Raptors get FIVE of those matchups. Really, the defending champs’ only cupcake game is against the Magic, who should be tougher on defense at full strength. The only saving grace is that the game against Orlando breaks up the Raptors’ schedule a bit. Other than that, it’s an absolute gauntlet.
Speaking of defense, Toronto does get some of the toughest defensive teams in the NBA. The Lakers, Bucks, Celtics, Magic, Nuggets, Heat, Grizzlies and Sixers all rank in the top half of the League in defensive rating. Not one team the Raptors will face is mediocre on defense and ALL OF THEM ARE HEALTHY AND FRESH. Tough times for Toronto.
Los Angeles Lakers
Opponents: LAC, TOR, UTA, OKC, HOU, IND, DEN, SAC
Toughest Matchups: LAC, DEN, TOR, HOU
I’ll admit, the Lakers’ schedule isn’t as bad as the other two on paper. There’s also the fact that L.A. doesn’t really need to do much to lock up the No. 1 seed. That doesn’t mean they can mail it in for the seeding round. The biggest thing with the Lakers’ schedule is how it’s ordered. Their easiest opponent is the Kings, which is their last opponent before the playoffs. Getting off to a good start against the Clippers is big. The Clippers are 5.5 games back of the Lakers for first place in the West. A loss puts that number at 4.5 and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George become more motivated to go after the 1-seed.
The Raptors, Rockets, Jazz and Thunder are all scary matchups for the Lakers coming back on a clean slate. The loss of Avery Bradley, who is now being replaced by J.R. Smith, should impact the Lakers on defense. The more burden put on LeBron James and Anthony Davis to carry the Lakers early on in the return, the tougher things will get once the playoffs start.