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:
More than anything else, the quality of the conference in which a team plays determines the strength of its schedule. That's been particularly true because of the large gap between the stronger Western Conference and the weaker Eastern Conference dating back nearly a decade and a half.
Last year, the West won 63.1 percent of matchups between the two conferences, the second-highest mark since the NBA-ABA merger. So naturally, West teams had it more difficult schedule-wise than their East rivals. In fact, to demonstrate the importance of conference-to-schedule strength, every single Western Conference team played a tougher slate of opponents than every single Eastern Conference team.