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Spurs Schedule Analysis: The Stretch Run

Well, there's less than a month left in the regular season, and say what you want about the schedule up to this point, but the final weeks are not particularly kind to the San Antonio Spurs. As far as analysis is concerned, I'm not going to pretend that I'm any good at this. Back in the day, BlaseE did this for us and it was awesome. He opened my eyes to digging into the schedule and seeing each game not just as a contest against the next team on a list, but as a part of a series of games that are all unique due to the amount of rest the team has had, or is about to get. Also, I like numbers, and you know that I like acronyms, so when the schedule was released I started digging into it to see what was in there. What I found was BABA's, and lots of them.

We knew that, with the season originally scheduled to start on November 1st, we had lost the better part of two months to the lockout, but only 16 games were cancelled. So there I was as soon as the schedule was released, tweeting about every FIGASENI that I saw, Josh asked me whether I was going to post a story about the schedule, and I foolishly agreed that I should. But then the season started and it's easy to get caught up in the games and the flow of the season. I've re-written this post at least three times without ever finishing or posting it. Which is ok, I guess, because the part that really fascinated me the most was the end of the season. The Stretch Run.

(First, a note about broadcasting. From December 26 through April 12, The Spurs have 8 national TV dates. From 4/14 to 4/26 six of the Spurs last 9 games are being carried nationally by ESPN, NBA TV, and TNT. That includes our last 3 in a row with Portland, Phoenix and Golden State. Am I the only one who finds that a bit odd? Were they planning for a Duncan farewell? Do they want to document the end of the 50-game win streak? I'm not quite sure what this is about.)

With last Wednesday's game against the Kings, the Spurs completed a run of 6 games in 8 nights. (For anyone wondering why The Lexicon has no construction for it, hopefully one look at SIGAEINI, will be enough of an explanation. Ugh!) Let's see, six divided by eight is .750 -- three quarters. Three days on and one day off is a pretty stiff schedule for NBA players. But they won them all, so no harm right? I mean Pop got all the guys rest in one way or another (DND - Old) didn't he?

Well, April starts out pretty mild, with only 3 games in the first week, but there's 5 in the second week, with days off on Tuesday and Friday. The third and fourth weeks each have 4 games, but they get them in MUCH different ways. Week 3 features the season's final Triple Lindy, on the road, from Tue-Thur with the Lakers in the middle of a run up and down the coast of California. The final week is a FOGAFINI that ends with a BABA on the road. And that's it. Doesn't sound so bad to you? Read on.

Starting with the game that kicks off a home-and-home with Utah on April 8th, the Spurs play 13 games in 19 days. For comparison, every month of last season had 15 games in it, except for March which had 16 and February which only had 12 because of the All Star break. So using that as a measuring stick, we go from a "normal" season averaging a game every other day, to 13 games in less than three weeks. So, if the Spurs were scheduled games at that rate through the normal NBA timeframe, from November until mid-April, they would play a 102 game schedule. Another note about April: after those first two days of the month off, the Spurs play 16 games in 24 days. They've played tougher short stretches this year, but to my knowledge, this is the toughest not only of the Spurs' season, but for any team in the NBA as far as playing the most games in the least number of days across this much time.

I hear someone still wondering why is April so tough. After all, haven't the Spurs been playing a lot of games all season long? Well, I'll summarize the final month: they play a .667 average (2 on for 1 off) for over 3 weeks, and never have the luxury of two days off in order to recover. But there's something just about as important as recovering that the Spurs will be missing out on too. Something that teams with new players need desparately.

Today, March 30th, marks the second off-day in a row. After the Saturday game against the Pacers (with the return of George Hill!) there are two days off again, but that's the last time in the season it happens. Popovich always talks about how the team doesn't practice if there's only one day between games. So the guys who are new to the team had better get integrated with the practices they're having today and next Monday, because after the days off April 1st and 2nd, there's not another chance to work things out until whatever time the teams gets off before the playoffs.

And don't forget that there will definitely be BABA's in the first round of the playoffs, and depending on how long the series last, perhaps for the 2nd round too. And that's why this is such a bad closing schedule for the Spurs. If you take a look at the standings, nearly all of the other teams have played more games than San Antonio has so far, but they're going to pay for that now. And they'll do it leading up to the most important time of year -- the playoffs.