With Kevin Garnett’s injury and the return of Delonte West, the NBA world is abuzz with talk of Cleveland capturing the #1 seed over the next several weeks. Not so fast. Before we assume that home court is ours for the taking, let’s take a look at the schedules for both teams and see who has the edge.
First, let’s remind ourselves of the ‘target date’ for Garnett’s return. Reports are that he is going to miss two to three weeks, setting up a date of between March 9th and 16th. (Of course, if Garnett is feeling somewhat better after a week and a half, do you think he will want to sit out the meeting with Cleveland on March 6th?) Assuming those dates, who faces the tougher road- Cleveland or a KG-less Boston?
In sheer volume of games, the Cavaliers play eight in the next two weeks, 12 in the next three. Boston has a slightly lighter schedule, playing seven games before March 9th, and 10 before the 16th. At the end of the three week period, the Cavs and Boston will finally be even in games played, which will help with standings watching anyway. The Cavs have a one game lead in the loss column on the Celtics, so in a sense they have to win those two “extra” games to hold a one game lead on Boston for the best record in the conference. Advantage Celtics.
The winning percentage of the teams Boston will play for the next two weeks: .537 The percentage drops to .503 for the three week period. The Cavaliers play opponents with a .560 winning percentage over the next two weeks, however that number shrinks to .492 over the three week span. Advantage? Well, the Cavaliers play seven games against playoff bound (at the moment) teams. Boston plays six. Of course, the Cavs play all of those in the first two weeks. Push.
The Cavs will be on the road for eight of the next 12 games, while Boston will play half of their 10 games at home. Advantage Celtics. Even if they aren’t as dominant at home as they were last season.
Numbers are great, but let’s try the eyeball test. The Cavs will/could/should have tough games in Houston, San Antonio, Atlanta, Miami (plus the Heat in Cleveland) and Boston. Milwaukee at home won’t be entirely easy, but it’s still a game the Cavs should win. Expect wins against the Knicks and Memphis and in Sacramento, Phoenix (without Amare) and Clipperland. There are four sets of back to backs in there, which could easily lead to a unexpected loss. The good news, if there is any, about playing the Spurs right now is that they are a bit banged up themselves, and will probably be without Manu Ginobili for our game.
The Celtics (who do not have any back-to backs on tap by the way) will see tough contests in Denver, and against the Cavs and and Magic at home. They get the Pacers and Pistons at home- both of whom have won in Boston this season, but there is a question mark about the availability of Danny Granger for the Pacers, and the Pistons just look like a team that has thrown in the towel. New Jersey, Milwaukee and Miami on the road are the other tests. Advantage Boston.
So here’s my take. The Cavs certainly have an opportunity. If they play like they did Sunday night, they could go on one of those great runs and finish 11-1 for the stretch. If so the Celtics would have a hard time keeping up. Don’t forget though that this team still has Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. They should still be favored in almost every game over the next three weeks. Here’s the key- the Cavs have to handle their business against Boston on March 6th. That game could be the difference in holding a one-game lead in the East opposed to a three game lead.