The NBA schedule was released yesterday, and the Golden State Warriors — thanks to being in the Western Conference — once again have a gauntlet of a schedule. The reigning champions are in high demand and will be featured on a league-high 25 national television games, five on ABC, and ten each on ESPN and TNT.
Early on, the Warriors will have to regain championship form quickly.
Golden State starts the season October 27 at Oracle Arena as part of TNT Opening Night, and the team will receive its championship rings against Anthony Davis and the up-and-coming New Orleans Pelicans, who at head coach now feature former Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry.
Two days after Opening Night they'll travel to Houston for a matchup with MVP runner-up James Harden and the Rockets, whom the Warriors defeated in five games in the Western Conference Finals (I guess we'll see if Harden thinks the Warriors are still not "that good"); the night after, they'll face the Pelicans again, this time in New Orleans.
This road-road back-to-back is one of a league-high 20 back-to-backs the Warriors will accrue this season, one more than last season. Overall, the NBA behind Commissioner Adam Silver has made an effort to cut back-to-backs and stretches of four-games-in-five-nights, and they've done that well league-wide: 70 four-in-five stretches last season; 37 this season. As I highlighted last season, the Warriors had four such stretches; this season, none.
Ten of the Warriors' first 14 games will feature matchups against 2014-15 playoff teams, including two apiece against the Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, and revamped Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Clippers. That difficult stretch ends with consecutive national TV matchups (TNT and ESPN, respectively) against fringe NBA title contenders: at Staples Center versus the Clippers, and on November 20 at home against the Bulls, one of two teams to conquer the Warriors at Oracle Arena in last year's regular season.
The schedule gets a bit lighter from then until Christmas. Starting November 22, the Warriors will play four probable Western Conference doormats: the Nuggets, who traded embattled star point guard Ty Lawson for peanuts in the offseason; the Lakers, with aging Kobe Bryant still hoping to play an important role; the Suns, who gutted their team in a failure to procure LaMarcus Aldridge; and the Kings, with a devil-may-care attitude vis-à-vis their team-building and ownership.
Following that easy period, Golden State goes on a season-high seven-game road trip (two this season), crossing from Salt Lake City to Boston. While four of the seven teams the Warriors will face on the trip made the Eastern Conference playoffs last season — the Celtics, Bucks, Raptors, and Nets — none of the seven squads can hold a candle to the defending champions. Golden State has made a statement on East Coast road trips the past two seasons, and this is their chance to do so with a Christmas Day bout looming.
Fortunately, a three-day break awaits the Warriors once they return home from the long road trip (full of five-star hotels and flights on a private jet, I might add). For the second time in weeks, the Suns, Bucks, and Jazz will be on the docket, this time at Oracle Arena, with a rare four-day break at home between the Bucks and Jazz matchups.
Then it's time for the premier game on the Warriors' schedule: an NBA Finals rematch at Oracle Arena on Christmas Day against the Cleveland Cavaliers, with LeBron James facing Finals MVP Andre Iguodala once more, Kevin Love versus the tandem of Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, and point guard maestros Kyrie Irving and NBA MVP Stephen Curry facing off on ABC. I — along with the rest of the NBA world — am salivating at the thought of these teams going at it at full strength.
January looks like a relatively simple month for the Warriors: just three games against probable title contenders, all coming in the second half of the month, including the second and final regular season matchup at Cleveland on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on TNT. The Warriors will play Denver and the Lakers twice; match up with Eastern Conference doormats (the 76ers, Knicks, and Hornets); and have just three back-to-backs, none of which should feature opponents that should make the playoffs this season.
February, on the other hand, may bring chills for the Warriors, who start the month with three consecutive tough national TV games: at the Wizards (ESPN), and the only two February home games versus the Rockets (ESPN) and Thunder (TNT). They'll close the front end of the regular season in Phoenix February 10, with the All-Star Break hosted by Toronto from Feb. 12-14.
Golden State resumes play five days later in the middle of a tough seven-game road trip at the Trail Blazers, a possible trap game with a nationally televised Saturday ABC matchup at the Clippers the next day. The Warriors end the trip, and the month, with three games in four nights: a Florida back-to-back against the Heat and Magic, and a doozy: Kevin Durant and the Thunder in OKC, nationally televised on ABC.
March is a mixed-bag sort of month, with multiple games against both contenders and doormats; and features the longest homestand of the season: a six-gamer from March 7-16 (Orlando, Utah, Portland, Phoenix, New Orleans, the New York Knicks).
Coming off a road trip where Atlanta and OKC will be highlighted, the Warriors will start off the month with ... home games against Atlanta and OKC (TNT). After facing Oklahoma City on March 3, the Warriors have the potential to sweep their next seven games, the hardest being a home date with the pesky Pelicans (with a day of rest before and after).
The schedule gets trickier in the second half of March. After the homestand, the Warriors will have a Texas two-step back-to-back with the Mavericks and Spurs (the latter on ABC), who are favored to come out of the Western Conference this season. A duel with the emerging Timberwolves in Minnesota concludes a quick but stressful road trip.
To end March the Warriors will endure a moderately strenuous four-game homestand, facing the Clippers, Mavericks (for the second time in a week), 76ers, and Wizards (on TNT), and a one-game roadie at Utah.
The final month of the regular season, April starts off simply but switches to God Level. The Warriors begin April with home games against Boston, Portland, and Minnesota. To end the season, Golden State has what might be the most difficult four-game stretch this season, with the middle two a road back-to-back: San Antonio, Memphis, San Antonio, Memphis.
Last season, the Warriors seemingly snuck up on many teams, and were fortunate that perennial contenders San Antonio and Oklahoma City endured injuries to critical players for a chunk of the year. That shouldn't take away from everything they did in lambasting the NBA to a tune of 67-15 with the best point differential in nearly two decades. This Warriors team, however, won't be sneaking up on anyone. The Warriors are the defending NBA champions, and they'll get each team's best, every night.
Conquering this punishing schedule could very much mean an easier path to repeating as NBA champions.