The Los Angeles Lakers enter December with their first 17-2 start since they won the NBA championship in the 2008-09 season. Through Saturday, they're one of two teams - the Milwaukee Bucks are the other - in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
But the Lakers' success so far comes after playing one of the league's easiest schedules. Their last 10 games of November (and 14 of their 19 games thus far) were against teams that currently have losing records.
The schedule is about to turn. When you factor in opponent strength, game location and rest, the Lakers have the league's toughest December schedule by a pretty wide margin.
Ten of the Lakers' 14 December games will come against teams that enter the month with a winning record. Nine of the 14 - including eight of nine over a stretch that begins Tuesday - will be on the road. And the Lakers won't have a single rest-advantage game in the month of December, with three of those already in the books.
• Rest advantage / Rest disadvantage: Games in which one team (at a disadvantage) played the day before and the other (at an advantage) did not. This season, teams are 37-23 (.617) with a rest advantage, 26-12 (.684) at home and 11-11 (.500) on the road.
The Lakers' Christmas Day matchup with the Clippers (a home game for the Lakers) is just one of the highlights. They began the month in humbling fashion, trailing by as many as 21 in a 14-point home loss to the Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.
On Tuesday, the Lakers will begin a three-game trip with a visit to the second-place Nuggets, who they'll also play at home on Dec. 22. And before that game, they'll conclude a five-game trip in Milwaukee, their first meeting with the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Here's a breakdown of every Western Conference team's December schedule ...
|G = Total games|
H/R = Home & road games (doesn't include neutral-site games)
RA/RDA = Rest-advantage & rest-disadvantage games
OppPCT = Cumulative opponent winning percentage entering Dec.
OppO = Average opponent ranking in offensive efficiency
OppD = Average opponent ranking in defensive efficiency
More Western Conference notes:
- Two of this season's three neutral-site games will take place on Dec. 12 (Mavs vs. Pistons) and Dec. 14 (Spurs vs. Suns) in Mexico City. Those count as home games for Detroit and Phoenix.
- The Mavs' No. 1 offense will play seven December games against teams that enter the month in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. That's two Sunday road games (Dec. 1 and 29) against the Lakers as well as five straight games (Dec. 14-22) against the top five teams in the Eastern Conference.
- After hosting the Lakers on Tuesday, the Nuggets will have a four-game trip through the Atlantic Division. But then they'll return for their longest homestand of the season: Five games from Dec. 12-20.
- It might not mean much, but the Warriors have the league's easiest December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage.
- The Rockets are one of two teams - the Warriors are the other - with 11 games against teams that enter the month with losing records. That includes two games each against the Spurs, Suns and Kings.
- The Clippers have two six-game trips this season, one in December and one in January, all part of a stretch where they're playing 18 of 31 games on the road, with two of the other 13 being "road" games against the Lakers. The December trip begins in Milwaukee on Dec. 6 and includes Kawhi Leonard's return to Toronto on Wed., Dec. 11. That game is not part of either of the two back-to-backs on the trip, but it is in the middle of the Clips' only five-games-in-seven-days stretch of the season. The Clips also have a league-high nine games against the teams that enter the month in the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
- The Grizzlies have the biggest December discrepancy between rest-advantage games (zero) and rest-disadvantage games (three). All three of the latter are at home and against Eastern Conference opponents (Indiana, Washington and Charlotte).
- The Timberwolves are 7-2 on the road, but have yet to have a trip of more than two games. They have four trips of four or more games this season, and two of them - both four games long - are this month. Those eight total road games include a lot of important matchups in regard to the Western Conference standings.
- The Suns begin the month in Charlotte (Monday) and Orlando (Wednesday). And then they'll play 14 straight games within the Western Conference. Their four rest-disadvantage games are the most for any team in December.
- The Blazers have the league's most home-heavy December schedule, with 10 of their 14 games at the Moda Center. But they're one of four teams that doesn't have a rest-advantage game this month. Their only game against a team playing the second game of a back-to-back (Dec. 21 vs. Minnesota) is also the second game of one of their two December back-to-backs. (They're just 1-3 in rest-advantage games anyway.)
- The Kings have the only Texas Triangle trip (three straight road games in Texas, Dec. 6-9) in the league this season. Three of the last four teams that have done the trip (including last season's Warriors) have lost all three games.
- The Spurs play a league-low 12 games in December, and are the only team without a single back-to-back this month. They also have the league's easiest December schedule in regard to opposing defenses, with only one of their 12 games (Dec. 21 against the 10th-ranked Clippers) against teams enter the month in the top 10 in defensive efficiency.
- The Jazz enter December with a 5-1 record in back-to-backs, 2-1 in the first game and 3-0 in the second game. But they will begin the month with a tough one, playing in Toronto (where the Raptors are 8-0) on Sunday and with a rest disadvantage in Philadelphia (where the Sixers are 9-0) on Monday. After that though, they'll have a three-game homestand that includes their first two rest-advantage games of the season: Dec. 4 vs. the Lakers and Dec. 9 vs. the Thunder.
Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown admitted to NBA.com earlier this season that building a good offense around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid is "the greatest challenge that I have." Through November, the Sixers rank just 16th offensively, having scored 107.8 points per 100 possessions and struggling with turnovers and perimeter shooting.
Their win over the Pacers' top-10 defense on Saturday was one of the Sixers' best offensive games of the season (119 points on 101 possessions). But more tests await the Philly offense.
The Sixers will play a league-high eight of their 16 December games against teams that enter the month in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. That includes marquee games at the Wells Fargo Center against the Toronto Raptors (Sunday, Dec. 8) and Milwaukee Bucks (Christmas Day), an Embiid-Rudy Gobert head-to-head matchup to start the month (on Monday), as well as two games against the Miami Heat.
Philly is one of five teams with a league-high 16 games in December and one of four teams with a league-high four back-to-backs this month, which includes their only five-games-in-seven-days stretch of the season (Dec. 7-13). They also have the most December games (four) with a rest advantage, but in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, only the Lakers have a tougher December than the Sixers.
There will still be 46 games to play once the calendar hits 2020, but this will be a good month to take stock of just where the Sixers stand offensively.
More Eastern Conference notes:
- After getting eviscerated by James Harden and the Rockets on Saturday, the Hawks' 29th-ranked defense will get a little relief. They're one of two teams - the Hornets are the other - with only two December games against teams that enter the month in the top 10 in offensive efficiency.
- The Celtics begin the month with their second straight game in the five boroughs of New York (Sunday at Madison Square Garden), but their other four December road games are all one-game trips, and only one of their 13 games (Dec. 18 at Dallas) is outside of the Eastern time zone.
- Over their last 18 days, the Nets have sunk from sixth to 17th in offensive efficiency. But December gives them an opportunity to fatten up on that end of the floor. They're the only team that will play more than half of its December games (seven of 13) against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 defensively. Five of those seven - including two games each against Atlanta and Charlotte - are against bottom-five defenses.
- The Bulls are one of three teams that have yet to play a rest-advantage game and also one of three teams that have yet to play a rest-disadvantage game. They will be the last team to have a rest-advantage game (their first is Dec. 11), but they have three of them, including both of their home games against the Hawks, this month. And they'll also be the last team to have a rest-disadvantage game, with their first not coming until Jan. 11. They have two back-to-backs in December. But the second games of both are at home and also the second games of back-to-backs for their opponents.
- The Cavs are one of four teams - the Bulls, Clippers and Sixers are the others - with a five-games-in-seven-days stretch this month. They will play five, including two home-road back-to-backs from Dec. 6-12.
- The Pistons, who enter the month with a bottom-10 defense, have the league's toughest December schedule in regard to opposing offenses. Eight of their 15 games (including two each against Washington and San Antonio) are against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, and only three are against teams in the bottom 10.
- Through Dec. 8, the Pacers will have played just six of their 23 games against the other 13 teams that enter December with winning records. Starting with a Dec. 9 game against the Clippers, they'll play 14 of 21 against that group. The Pacers are also one of three teams - the Bulls and Jazz are the others - that enters December having yet to play a rest-advantage game. In fact, their loss in Philadelphia on Saturday was the first time their opponent was playing the second game of a back-to-back. Their first game of the month (Monday in Memphis) will be their first rest-advantage game of the season, and they'll have two more (Dec. 9 vs. the Clippers and Dec. 22 in Milwaukee) this month.
- The Bucks enter the month with the East's best record and will have the conference's easiest December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.432), with 10 of their 15 games against teams currently under .500. But three of the top five teams in the West - the Clippers, Mavs and Lakers - will make their only visits to Milwaukee this month.
- The Magic are the only team with more December games against the opposite conference (eight against the West) than within their own conference (seven against the East). They have a four-game, six-day trip that begins in New Orleans (Dec. 15) and ends in Portland (Dec. 20).
- The Raptors are one of the five teams with 16 games this month and one of three with 10 games against teams that enter the month with winning records. But their 11 December home games are the most in the league. They include Leonard's return on Dec. 11, the only Toronto visits from James Harden (Dec. 5) and Luka Doncic (Dec. 22), and a Christmas Day matchup with the Celtics.
- The Wizards will see five teams twice in December. Ten of their 14 December games are against the Clippers, Sixers, Heat, Pistons and Knicks. Those are all home-away splits, except for the two games against the Pistons, which will both be in Detroit.
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