Strength of schedule means little

Matchups might be fun, but they offer no advantage or disadvantage

Updated: August 14, 2014, 2:03 AM ET
By Kevin Pelton | ESPN Insider

Chris Paul, Avery BradleyGreg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsWestern Conference teams feasted on Eastern Conference teams in 2013-14.

There's a famous story, probably apocryphal, about Larry Bird examining his team's schedule for the upcoming NBA season.

"Forty-one home, 41 away," Bird concluded. "Yup, looks right to me."

Even if the tone is flippant for effect, the message isn't far off. Unlike the NFL, where the schedule can make or break a team's season, in the NBA it has little to do with overall performance.

Within conferences, teams' schedules differ by just four games each. They play all four division rivals four times, two home and two away, and the same number against six of the 10 teams in other divisions in the same conference. Which four teams that play just three teams rotate randomly over a five-year cycle.

That leaves three factors that have a consistent, significant impact on each team's strength of schedule: conference, team ability and back-to-back games. Let's take a look at these three factors: