The NBA's "stretch run" officially begins later this week. But not all playoff pushes are created equal.
With 28 games ahead of the Boston Celtics after the All-Star break, now is as good a time as ever to look at "strength of schedule:" the combined record of remaining opponents for all 30 NBA teams.
Here are the full "strength of schedule" rankings for the home stretch, beginning with the New Orleans Pelicans, who have the league's easiest schedule with a combined opponent win percentage of just 44.9:
NBA strength of schedule for the remainder of the season (easiest to hardest).— Joe Osborne (@JTFOz) February 18, 2020
The Pelicans should be able to push for a playoff spot while the 76ers could improve their spot in the East if they can figure out how to win on the road (25-2 at home, 9-19 on the road). pic.twitter.com/npje4exQJN
What do these rankings mean for the Celtics, who sit third in the Eastern Conference at 38-16? A few quick takeaways:
1. The Celtics face the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz as part of a tough-four game road trip out of the break. They're still tied with the Toronto Raptors for the league's 11th-easiest remaining schedule, though. The Raptors are 2.5 games ahead of the C's for the all-important No. 2 seed (more on why that matters here), so this race could come down to the wire.
2. The two teams below Boston in the East standings -- the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers -- have cupcake remaining schedules. Only the Pelicans have an easier road ahead than Philly (which already completed its season series with Boston) while Miami has the league's fifth-easiest remaining schedule. Both teams are in striking distance of the Celtics and very easily could catch the C's if they stumble.
3. Here's the one silver lining for Boston, which owns the Grizzlies' 2020 first-round pick (top-six protected): Memphis faces the NBA's toughest schedule down the stretch. The Grizzlies own the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference right now, but if the Portland Trail Blazers (sixth-easiest schedule) can catch them, the Celtics could salvage a lottery selection out of the Memphis pick.
This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves.