For years now, I have seen and heard the term “schedule loss” thrown around. Essentially, fans claimed that some of their team’s losses were due strictly to a brutal stretch of scheduling, usually including several road games in a short stretch of time. I only half-heartedly bought into the concept – this was the NBA, where the best athletes and finest physical specimens in the world made their living. How much could fatigue really affect them?
Then I saw Wednesday’s game against the Timberwolves. It was the second night of a back-to-back, the fourth game in five days, and all four games were on the road. The Trail Blazers were flat-out gassed. Rather than being upset or sad at what was shaping up to be a blow-out loss, I honestly just felt sorry for the team. I know all too well how sore playing even one day of pickup basketball leaves me, so just the thought of a fourth NBA-level game in five days is almost beyond my comprehension.
For a quick tangent about the game – it showed just how much fight the Trail Blazers have. As fellow Rip City Project writer Brandon noted, the Trail Blazers faced a 32-point deficit in the 2nd quarter, yet fought back to within five points with under a minute left. I don’t know how I feel about Head Coach Terry Stotts playing both Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge over 40 minutes apiece in this ultimately futile endeavor, but it just reinforces my belief that this team is never truly out of a game. Such resilience will be invaluable come playoff time.
To get back to the scheduling, after witnessing the sluggishness that comprised the fourth game in five nights, I quickly pulled up the Trail Blazers schedule to see if they had any more such stretches. Luckily, I found only two more, from January 17th to 21st, and from March 24th to 28th.
Both stretches feature four games in five days, with all eight coming on the road. Of particular note is that January stretch, where those four games are at Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. This will likely be Portland’s biggest condensed test of the season. The final games of these two stretches come against Oklahoma City and Chicago, two tough teams, so sadly these may become schedule losses (not to discredit the effort that goes into beating the Trail Blazers).
Also while perusing that schedule, I started to fully realize just how tough the Trail Blazers’ March lineup is. I previously wrote about the team’s schedule, and mentioned March’s brutality, but let me drop this fact on you now: during the entire month of March, the Trail Blazers do not have two consecutive days off (ouch). This is the time of the year when the playoff pushes really start heating up, so it will be a true trial by fire for Portland since every team is fighting for the right to extend their season. There are no easy games at this point, except maybe from deliberately tanking teams.
It’s no secret that, while better than last year, Stotts has still been heavily relying on his starters this season. If minutes are not carefully managed, this March grind could really wear down the team. As has been well-documented, last year’s team quite simply wore out down the stretch, and I hope the same does not happen this year. With the eventual return of CJ McCollum, hopefully the bench remains competent enough to avoid such pitfalls again. During the playoffs, healthier teams have a mammoth advantage.
I’m of the camp that believes the Trail Blazers have had a relatively friendly schedule thus far in the year, but, come March, it’s time to pay the Pied Piper. If the team navigates March even somewhat successfully, they can coast through a much lighter April and hopefully right into the post-season.