The Portland Trail Blazers 2023-24 regular season schedule has been released. 80 of their 82 games are known, with two being left variable because of the new NBA Mid-Season Tournament the first week in December.
Having seen the schedule, here are three early observations.
The Win Gap
If you look at the schedule, 50 out of 80 pre-scheduled games for the Blazers will come against teams that finished .500 or above last season. At first, this doesn’t seem possible, but it is. It highlights the reality of the NBA in 2023: the gap between haves and have-nots is pretty clear.
Only 12 of 30 teams finished below .500 last year. Four of them—the Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, and San Antonio Spurs—had 55 or more losses each. The Blazers themselves accumulated 49. Counterbalancing that, no team won 60 games.
It’s not like the NBA has a clear elite team and then a couple of basement dwellers. Instead, the league is divided into three classes: teams with a chance at a title, teams that can pretend they do in the right light, and losing teams.
Currently residing in the latter group, the Blazers face the harsh reality that two-thirds of their games will come against the first two. (62.5% against teams that finished with 41 or more wins outright, another handful against teams that were close.) That’s going to be a tall order for a young franchise, just finding their way. They’re not just going to lose to the Lakers and Celtics on certain nights; they’re probably going to lose to plenty of teams, every night.
The road would be easier if the Blazers could play their 5 in “War” against a couple of Kings, then fight equally against the rest of the deck. Instead, league parity will leave them facing 9’s and 10’s on a regular basis. Since losses are measured by quantity, not quality, it could get grim.
Given what we just said, no month is going to look great for the Blazers. The easiest might be December, where they play 8 out of 11 games at home and only 5 against +.500 teams. Contrast that with a brutal March wherein Portland will play 17 games—already a heavy dose—with 4 back-to-backs and 13 against teams that finished .500 or better last year. A close runner-up is January, which will also see 17 games, 11 on the road, 9 against +.500 teams. If the Blazers don’t make hay early in the year, they may get pummeled.
If the Mid-Season Tournament was supposed to be a consolation prize for teams struggling to reach an NBA Championship, it looks like the Blazers might have trouble reaching for it, at least this season.
Each team plays four games early in the year to determine whether they will advance to the Round of Eight that completes the tournament. Portland drew a group with the Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz. Three of those would be expected as losses and the fourth opponent, the Jazz, is no sure thing.
We knew these matchups were taking place before the schedule was released, but seeing it in black and white underlines the reality of where Portland stands.
The glimmer of hope here is that early-season games are always more random. Teams have not gotten into rhythm yet. Some of the league’s best don’t even get motivated in November. Portland could sneak in a couple of lightning strikes during the chaos. But that’s pretty much what they’d need to beat two of the teams with the biggest stars in the conference and another that finished second overall in the West last year (albeit now without their main star, Ja Morant, who will start the season on the suspended list).
What did you notice most from the schedule? Comment below if you’d like and share your observations!