The NBA All-Star Game is coming up soon on March 7, and that marked the end of the regular season schedule, until now. The NBA released the schedule for the second half of the regular season on Wednesday, in this unprecedented year where only the first half of the schedule had been set at the beginning of the season. This large degree of uncertainty has created some interesting dynamics, and there are some significant implications to analyze as we look ahead to basketball after the All-Star break.
Key Games for Player Awards
To start with, there are a few games that stand out on the new schedule that should have significant ramifications in the future betting markets. In 2020, we saw a Lakers win against the Bucks (on March 6) have a significant impact in the Giannis vs. LeBron MVP race, and there are some upcoming games that could be similarly important in 2021.
Rookie of the Year
March 15: Kings at Hornets
Most Valuable Player
March 25: 76ers at Lakers
Defensive Player of the Year
April 16: Indiana Pacers at Utah Jazz
LaMelo Ball and Rudy Gobert appear to be pulling away in their respective award races, but the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award still seems completely up for grabs. LeBron James is currently the favorite on DraftKings Sportsbook at +150, with Joel Embiid (+300) and Nikola Jokic (+600) his closest competitors. The winner of this season’s MVP will likely be determined by their team’s record to a large degree, though these head-to-head matchups could play a key role as well. The next (and last) game between the 76ers and Lakers this year is scheduled for March 25, and while Anthony Davis figures to be back by then, it should still be a big game in terms of LeBron and Embiid trying to make their respective cases for MVP.
The Pacific Division has had a large shift of late, as Anthony Davis has played in just two games over the last three weeks and the Lakers have predictably struggled as a result. Davis isn’t expected back until after the All-Star break, while at the same time, the Clippers have gotten both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George back from their own injuries. The Lakers were divisional favorites for most of the season, but the Clippers have now taken over, with the Suns only a few games back as well. The one thing that does help the Lakers as far as the schedule is concerned is that the two remaining games against the Clippers are scheduled for April 4 and May 6, meaning that Davis should be back in action for both of those important contests.
The Mavericks have gone through a lot of turmoil in the 2021 season, with Kristaps Porzingis regularly injured and several key rotation players spending time away from the team due to health protocols. As a result, the Spurs currently have a commanding lead in the division, though they’ve recently been struck by their own bout with COVID-19 and will be without some of their own players for the next handful of games. The Mavericks played a bunch of games shorthanded, while the Spurs have had cancellations, and that means that the second half schedule will get a lot more crowded in San Antonio. The Spurs and the Grizzlies have the most remaining games in the NBA — 44 and 45 respectively — and they have the most back-to-backs remaining as well with 11 each. On top of that, the Mavericks’ two remaining games against the Spurs are both in Dallas, so all of this should add up to a much improved chance to reclaim the top of the Southwest Division over the remainder of the season.
Strength of Schedule
#1 SoS, #30 Remaining SoS
The Jazz have truly been the story of the NBA this season, with a 23-6 record that puts them more than three games ahead of the next closest team. It’s been an obvious advantage that they haven’t dealt with any health-related issues, and the largest obstacles have been brief injury stints for Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. The Jazz have obviously had some strong luck in 2021, but they’ve sufficiently earned their record when it comes to the opponents they’ve faced. The Jazz have actually faced the NBA’s hardest schedule so far (52.1% opponent winning percentage) and somehow have the easiest remaining schedule as well (47.7% opponent winning percentage). Many NBA fans may be waiting for the Jazz to come back to earth, but their 2nd half schedule sets up quite favorably.
#3 SoS, #26 Remaining SoS
In addition to the advantages outlined above, the Mavericks will benefit from an easier schedule in the 2nd half of the season as well. Dallas has already played road games against the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks and Jazz (twice), and many of their softer games have been reserved for the upcoming portion of the calendar. The Mavs’ record sits at a modest 15-15, but it seems to make sense that they would be the clear divisional favorite at -152, given how favorable the circumstances look for them going forward.
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