The Schedule Maker's Gift: Looking at Strength of Schedule for the Pacers

As I’ve noted in past By The Numbers posts, I pay a lot of attention to Strength of Schedule. Mostly, I look at a little concoction of my own (or at least, I haven’t been able to find anyone else using it) called SoSHR – a weighted SoS based on home vs. road records.

For the Pacers, the schedule just isn’t all that tough this season, but that’s pretty much true for everyone in the Eastern Conference. Based on current records, the Indiana Pacers are projected to have the 4th easiest schedule this season. The only teams with easier schedules? Eastern Conference rivals Atlanta, Philly, and Chicago. In fact, the SoSHR is so skewed East vs. West that the Eastern Conference owns the 10 easiest schedules, while the Western Conference owns the 10 toughest.

Here’s an overall look at the Pacers’ slate:

The red line represents the YTD SoSHR. The black line shows a rolling 10-game average, and the blue line coming in from the top shows the track of the Pacers’ winning percentage.

The takeaway from the red and black lines is that the Pacers are past the toughest part of the schedule, from a broad perspective, though there is one more challenge coming up. When the Indy returns from the break, they will play the final two games of their easiest 10-game stretch of the season – hosting the Warriors on Tuesday, then not playing again until Saturday in New Orleans. They’ve split the first eight games, so the “easy 10″ didn’t help them a great deal.

Then, starting on Monday, March 5th, they play their toughest remaining 10-game stretch of the season, with an overall SoSHR of .545. The ten games are spread out over 18 days, but they include four back-to-backs. Here’s a look:

There are five games at home, one of the road games is at the Wizards, and two – Chicago and Orlando – are in arenas where they’ve already notched victories this season. This is without a doubt the hardest part of a remaining schedule that ranks 23rd in the NBA.

If the Pacers can play the next dozen games at or above .500, it will set them up nicely for the stretch run. The overall SoSHR for their final 21 games is only .467. Thirteen of them are at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, including nine of the last 12 games.

As a very early look at the playoffs, it’s worth checking out the teams that the Pacers are likely to be vying for position against. The Hawks, currently a game and a half behind the Indy, have the easiest remaining slate – barely above .440. The Sixers, also a game and a half back, have the 19th rated schedule, and the Magic are middle of the pack. The Celtics and the Knicks have the toughest remaining list of games of the teams the Pacers are watching, rating 10th and 8th respectively.

So, as I mention in the headline, the schedule maker has been kind to the Blue-and-Gold. But that doesn’t mean that they are a product only of a weak schedule.

It would be dishonest to pretend that a tougher schedule wouldn’t adversely affect the current and future record of the Pacers. And, yes, Indiana has played the fourth easiest set of opponents through the All Star break. However, that does not mean they are without quality wins.

The Pacers have gone into L.A., Chicago, and Dallas and hung losses on the Lakers, Bulls, and Mavericks. They dominated Orlando in Orlando. If you go back to the first chart in this post, and look at the left-most circle – indicating their toughest 10-game stretch of the season (.613), they went 7-3 over in those games. Further, take a look at their performance in games with an SoSHR of above .700.

At 4-5, the Pacers are tied with the 5th best record in the league in these games. Going to the other end of the spectrum, you can see that the Pacers have also taken care of business against SoSHRs below .500.

At 13-2, the only losses they’ve had in these games were on New Year’s Eve at Detroit, and in Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Nuggets. The 15 games is a little less than average in terms of numbers played by other teams thus far.

Though Indiana benefits from their schedule, they have proven themselves to be a good basketball team. Only Miami has established themselves as clearly better in the East. Chicago probably is, but Indiana matches up really well with Tom Thibodeau’s squad. The Pacers are at least in the box with everyone else.

Exactly halfway through the season, the Indiana Pacers are on pace to win 42 games. Their final 33 games are – at worst – no tougher than their first 33, and at best, somewhat easier. This team entered the season with expectations of being a playoff team, but the bar now moves higher. The target now should be a top-4 seed, home court in the first round, and advancing at least to the second round.

It starts Tuesday.

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