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 easiest schedule for Orlando.
Opponents: UTA, LAC, MEM, SAC, WAS, SAS, SAC, ORL
Toughest Matchups: UTA, LAC, MEM
Not to throw a conspiracy theory at you right off the bat, but it seems like the NBA wants the Pelicans and Zion Williamson to stick around longer than eight games, no? The Pels play four games against teams outside the playoff picture and another against the Magic, who were 30-35 before the break. Granted, Orlando — and every team — will be healthier when the season starts. We don’t know how much that will impact teams upon return.
Even if we look at the tough matchups for the Pels, two of those are winnable considering New Orleans will also be 100% healthy. If the Pelicans had Zion for the whole season, you could argue they’d be clumped in with the Jazz, Thunder and Rockets in the middle of the West playoff race. New Orleans has work to do, but is set up nicely to steal the No. 8 seed from the Grizzlies.
Opponents: BKN, SAC, IND, TOR, PHI, BOS, BKN, NOP
Toughest Matchups: TOR, BOS, PHI, IND
You could argue that the Pelicans are also a “tough” opponent for the Magic. Still, Orlando will get an easier draw as the host team of sorts. The big thing for the Magic is they avoid a lot of the tougher opponents out West — Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets, etc. Instead, they get familiar foes in the Bucks, Celtics and Sixers, which aren’t easy draws, but at least they’re familiar.
The Magic should be at 100% with Jonathan Isaac expected to be back with the team. That’s a big boost considering how much the team struggled once the forward went down. The Magic didn’t have to worry too much about losing the No. 8 seed to the Wizards upon return. Now, they have even less of a reason to be concerned. Worst case, Orlando goes maybe 3-5 and limps into the playoffs.
Opponents: IND, SAC, WAS, ORL, POR, PHX, TOR, HOU
Toughest Matchups: TOR, HOU, POR, IND
When two of your four toughest opponents are the Blazers and Pacers, you know you’ve got it good coming back. Personally, I think the Blazers will be tougher upon return, but so will the Sixers. A healthy Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid could make the Sixers look more like a top 4 team in the NBA than a borderline top 4 team in the East. I’d be terrified to play Philly when the season returns. It’s also worth noting that one of the Sixers’ tough matchups is against the Rockets, who play extreme small ball. P.J. Tucker guarding Embiid all game? Yeah, okay!
After you get past the tough opponents, it’s a pretty easy slate. The Sixers have five games against teams below .500 in the standings. A fresh Philly squad that plays tough defense should be able to stifle opponents who are coming back rusty. There could be an emphasis on strong defensive teams if offenses struggle to get going. Would anyone be surprised if the Sixers went 8-0 and shot up to the No. 3 seed in the East? I don’t think so.