Schedule alert! Every game that tired teams should lose in March

Originally Published: March 1, 2018
By Baxter Holmes | ESPN.com

Welcome to National Sleep Awareness Month!

Yes, this is a very real thing -- and just as this is real, so too is the fact that the National Sleep Foundation has designated a National Sleep Awareness Week: March 11-17.

Why that week? Well, March 11 is the beginning of daylight saving time, so we'll "spring forward" and lose an extra hour overnight. One hour might not seem like much, but studies have shown that there are more fatal car accidents on the Monday after shifting to daylight saving time due to the sleep loss of one hour and circadian disruption.

Fittingly, or perhaps not, March also offers a season-high 12 schedule alert games, including a season-high four red alert games -- and one of these games may be affected by daylight saving time. (More on that below.)

But we mention all this to say that when we write about teams gaining or losing an hour during overnight travel on back-to-back sets, it's not hard to see what kind of impact it can have, because every hour can make a difference, as those aforementioned studies show.

And on that note, anyone who travels on the NBA schedule, logging upward of 50,000 miles from October until April, has faced the same issues that Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams so eloquently articulated in this New York Times profile by Kurt Streeter.

"You can wake up in a hotel room and not know where the hell you are," Adams told Streeter. "It gets worse as you get older. Sometimes we'll be on a flight taking off, and the impulse is, 'What city were we just in?' It's crazy."

Adams certainly isn't alone in making such remarks, as similar sentiments have been voiced for years -- though more often privately -- by players and coaches, especially during lengthy road trips spread across several time zones.

Yet Adams' quote does capture the hidden toll that travel and fatigue can take on what might be considered basic, fundamental notions -- that you know where you are.

That's just another element to keep in mind when you're watching one of your favorite teams that has been through a hectic slice of the schedule and their on-court performance looks a tad ... disoriented.

With that said, onto the latest schedule alert updates!

We correctly picked 6 of 9 games in February and, so far this season, have correctly picked 32 of 41 games. And that 78 percent success rate is still quite a bit higher than where the schedule alert formula suggested we'd be. (This is the part where, as always, we note that we applied our schedule alert formula to 10 seasons -- from 2007-08 through 2016-17 -- of games, and the results showed that teams facing schedule alert situations with a MahScore of 8 or higher lose 63 percent of the time.)

A few notables:

  • Of the 32 schedule alert games lost so far this season, schedule alert teams have lost by an average of 13.1 points.
  • Of the nine teams that have beaten schedule alert games this season, six of those teams have also lost a schedule alert game (Warriors, Spurs, Timberwolves, Jazz, Trail Blazers, Nuggets). The three other teams have not had a second schedule alert game this season (Rockets, Mavericks, Heat).
  • Of the nine teams that have beaten schedule alert games, five of those teams are currently the top six of the Western Conference.
  • The Nuggets have an NBA-high six schedule alert games this season and so far have lost four of them. Their final schedule alert game of the season comes this month.

Now, here are March's schedule alert games, and below them are recaps of such games for February:

March 2: Minnesota at Utah | MahScore 9.5

Dearest Timberwolves: This goes into the ledger as your fourth and final schedule alert game of the season. So congrats -- you made it to the finish line, almost. But this hurdle is a doozy, one of our season-high four red-alert games this month alone, and the toughest red-alert game left on the 2017-18 docket. The Timberwolves will play in Portland on March 1, a nationally televised game -- so it's going to get out late -- then will fly out immediately after -- losing an hour along the way -- for Salt Lake City, where they'll close out a back-to-back against the Jazz. The Jazz, meanwhile, will enter this game with a monster three-day rest advantage and will be on the 12th day of a 12-day homestand, so they should be plenty rested.

Update: Timberwolves lose 108-116

March 3: Denver at Cleveland | MahScore 8

Well, Nuggets, this is it -- the last of your league-high six schedule alert games this season, though you've lost four of those games, so far. And this finale just so happens to be against LeBron James, which might feel just a tad unfair, but that's life, isn't it? You'll host the Clippers on Feb. 27, then head to Memphis to play the Grizzlies on March 2. Then, immediately after facing Memphis, you'll fly out for Cleveland -- losing an hour along the way -- to play a game less than 24 hours later, closing out a back-to-back set and playing your third game in five days against a team with a one-day rest advantage. The Cavs will also be on the eighth day of a 10-day homestand.

Update: Nuggets win 126-117

March 3: Detroit at Miami | MahScore 8

Welcome to the party, Pistons! You've been the beneficiary of schedule alert games six times so far this season. You lucky scoundrels. But now it's time that you faced the wrath of the NBA schedule. So how about you head to Miami to play your fifth game in seven days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set after facing the Magic in Orlando the night before. The Heat will be entering this game with a one-day rest advantage and are on the eighth day of a 10-day homestand.

Update: Pistons lose 96-105

March 10: Memphis at Dallas | MahScore 9

Oh, Grizzlies. You're lucky that you're playing the tanking Mavericks in this red-alert game, but we still expect you to be a tad tired throughout, mostly because this is your fifth game in eight days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set. You'll host the Utah Jazz on March 9, then head out afterward for Dallas to take on a Dallas squad that will enter this game with a three-day rest advantage.

Update: Grizzlies lose 80-114

March 10: Washington at Miami | MahScore 8

The Wizards will play in New Orleans on March 9, then head out immediately after -- losing an hour in the process -- for Miami, where they'll close out a back-to-back set less than 24 hours after facing New Orleans and play your third game in five days. The Heat will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage.

Update: Wizards lose 102-129

March 13: Oklahoma City at Atlanta | MahScore 8

Greetings, Thunder! This is your first -- and only -- schedule alert game this season. This will mark your fifth game in eight days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set. You'll host the Kings, then fly out immediately after -- losing an hour along the way -- for Atlanta to face the Hawks less than 24 hours later. Atlanta will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage. Oh, and one more thing -- we set our clocks ahead an hour March 11. So you'll lose that hour, then play the Kings and lose another hour on your way to Atlanta. Sweet dreams...

Update: Thunder win 119-107

March 14: Los Angeles Lakers at Golden State | MahScore 8

As if the Warriors needed any more of an edge in this game -- on national television (ESPN), no less. Poor Lakers. You'll be playing your fifth game in eight days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set here. So after hosting the Nuggets on March 13, you'll head up to the Bay immediately after and face the defending champions the next night. The Warriors will enter this game with a two-day rest advantage, not that they'll need it.

Update: Lakers lose 106-117

March 17: Sacramento at Utah | MahScore 9

So, Kings, this will be your fifth game in seven days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set. You'll play the Warriors in Golden State on March 16, then head out immediately after -- losing an hour along the way -- for Salt Lake City to face the Jazz less than 24 hours later. Ouch. The Jazz, meanwhile, will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage and will be on the sixth day of a nine-day homestand.

Update: Kings lose 97-103

March 21: LA Clippers at Milwaukee | MahScore 8

Salutations, Clippers! You'll be playing your fifth game in seven days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set here, which also marks the second of a four-game road trip against Eastern Conference foes. You'll play the Timberwolves in Minnesota on March 20, then head out immediately after for Milwaukee to play the Bucks the very next night. The Bucks, meanwhile, will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage.

Update: Clippers win 127-120

March 21: Toronto at Cleveland | MahScore 8

This game is televised on ESPN ... and it might get ugly. Sorry, Raptors. You faced three teams that were on schedule alert this season, and now it's time that you face those same obstacles. Oh, and you'll do so while playing LeBron James ... in what will be your fifth game in seven days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set. You'll play in Orlando on March 20, then head out immediately after for Cleveland -- a fairly long flight, mind you -- to face the Cavaliers the next night. The Cavaliers enter this game with a one-day rest advantage.

Update: Raptors lose 129-132

March 23: Atlanta at Golden State | MahScore 9

Well, Hawks, you have the dubious honor of playing in our ninth and final red-alert game of 2017-18. And, no, our formula doesn't factor in that you're playing the Dubs, of all teams. It only takes into account that this will mark your fifth game in seven days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set. You'll play in Sacramento on March 22, then make the short trip over to Oakland to face the Warriors the next night. The Warriors, meanwhile, will enter this game with a three-day rest advantage. 

Update: Hawks lose 94-106

March 24: Chicago at Detroit | MahScore 8

Bulls, this goes down as your fourth and final schedule alert game of the season. It'll be your fifth game in eight days, your third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set. After hosting the Bucks on March 23, you will head out right after -- losing an hour along the way -- to Detroit to face the Pistons less than 24 hours later. The Pistons, meanwhile, will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage.

Update: Bulls lose 95-117


February's schedule alert games

Warriors lose to the Nuggets 115-108 in Denver on Feb. 3

MahScore: 8.5

The Warriors had entered this contest having won 37 straight games when leading entering the fourth quarter, their last such loss coming Oct. 17, 2017 vs. Houston.

But this fourth quarter occurred with the Warriors in the midst of the most feared travel scenario in all the NBA -- traveling to Denver to close out the second of a back-to-back set.

The Warriors had played Sacramento the night before, after which head coach Steve Kerr called his team "mentally fried," then headed out for Denver -- losing an hour in the process -- and, while reportedly enduring heavy turbulence during the trip, didn't arrive at their team hotel until just past 4 a.m. local time.

The Warriors being the Warriors, they had enough firepower to stay in the game, even if it marked their third game in five days, and they held a 77-67 lead midway through the third quarter.

But, as with many fatigued teams, Golden State collapsed late.

Aside from blowing a fourth-quarter lead for the first time in quite a while, the Warriors, who entered the final frame up by six points, allowed a whopping 38 fourth-quarter points, their most allowed in a fourth quarter since March 14, 2016 vs Pelicans, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Jazz beat the Spurs 120-111 in San Antonio on Feb. 3

MahScore: 8

Major, major credit to the Jazz for mustering up the energy in this game. It marked their third game in five days, and the second of a back-to-back set.

The Jazz faced the Suns in Phoenix the night before, then headed out immediately afterward for San Antonio -- or that was the plan, at least.

Utah's team plane was forced to turn around and return to Phoenix due to mechanical troubles. The team sat at the airport for hours before being able to switch planes until around 2 a.m. PST, according to ESPN's Michael Wright.

"I'm not a good flyer, so personally, I always get nervous," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said, according to Wright. "We kept seeing lights everywhere, and we were wondering if we were in Texas after 10 minutes, and we were landing. There was a problem with the plane, and they landed it.

Finally, the Jazz were able to head out -- losing an hour in the process as they crossed time zones -- and arrived at their team hotel in Texas around 6 a.m. local time to face a Spurs squad that had an NBA-best record of 22-5 at home.

To gain a bit more rest, the Jazz skipped their usual game-day activities and normal meetings.

But Utah was ultimately saved by remarkable performances from point guard Ricky Rubio and forward Royce O'Neale, both of whom achieved new career-highs in scoring.

Rubio tabbed 34 points on a blistering 11-of-14 shooting -- including 9-of-9 in the first half -- and O'Neale scored 18 points, hitting all four of his 3-point attempts.

Jazz beat the Hornets 106-94 in Salt Lake City on Feb. 9

MahScore: 8

The Hornets have been on both ends of schedule alert games this season and haven't fared well either way. But in this game, Charlotte was fighting fatigue ... as well as the hottest team in the NBA. The Hornets played an overtime game in Portland the night before, then headed out afterward -- losing an hour in the process -- to Salt Lake City to close out a four-game road trip that also included games in Phoenix and Denver. Meanwhile, the Jazz entered this game with a one-day rest advantage -- and riding high on a seven-game winning streak.

The Jazz were led by star rookie Donovan Mitchell, who scored 25, and the Hornets mustered up only 17 points in the fourth quarter after being competitive for much of the game.

"I guess we just lost our juice a little bit and they kind of took advantage of that," said Hornets star guard Kemba Walker.

No worries. Many teams in schedule alert situations lose their juice in the second half.

Trail Blazers beat the Kings 118-100 in Sacramento on Feb. 9

MahScore: 8.5

In the NBA, stars can single-handedly swing an outcome.

Exhibit A: Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.

This game marked Portland's fifth game in eight days, with the first three of those taking place on East Coast time. Then the Trail Blazers returned home, faced Charlotte on Feb. 8 in an overtime game at home, then left for Sacramento that same night to face the Kings the next day to close out a back-to-back set and play their third game in five days.

To make matters even more difficult, the Kings entered this game with a huge three-day rest advantage.

But then Lillard went absolutely bonkers, scoring a season-high 50 points in just 29 minutes. Lillard, who made 16 of 26 shots (including eight 3-pointers), didn't even play in the fourth quarter.

Nuggets beat the Suns 123-113 in Phoenix on Feb. 10

MahScore: 8

The Nuggets have a league-high six schedule alert games this season, and they lost their first four before finally notching a win when they were playing not just their opponent but a stiff dose of fatigue as well. Granted, it came against a Phoenix team that was without star Devin Booker, starting point guard Tyler Ulis and center Tyson Chandler, but a win is a win.

Here's the breakdown for the Nuggets, who have been on the wrong end of so many of these games this season. They were in Houston on Feb. 9, then headed out that same night -- gaining an hour -- for Phoenix to close out a back-to-back set. That's not an easy flight, either, as it covers about 1,000 miles as the crow flies. And the Suns entered this game with a two-day rest advantage.

Even with those key Suns players absent, the Suns still tallied a whopping 37 points in the second quarter and, as the Arizona Republic keenly noted, achieved some pretty impressive stats in other categories. Namely, the Suns' 21 fast-break points marked their most in six games, and their 66 points in the paint registered as a season high.

Oh, and Phoenix shot a season-best 54.8 percent from the field.

"We didn't defend at all tonight," Denver coach Mike Malone said, according to the Denver Post. "I'm happy we won the game. It was an important game for us to win. But I hate the fact that we did it without any defense."

Spurs lose to the Nuggets 117-109 in Denver on Feb. 13

MahScore: 8

One trend that we continue to see time and again is that a team on schedule alert will begin to fade in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, when fatigue can begin to set in. And that trend continued in this game, though let's back up and consider the circumstances first.

The Spurs were playing their third game in four days and the fourth of a six-game trip that began in Phoenix, headed to Golden State and then moved to Utah, where they lost a nail-biter to the Jazz on Feb. 12.

Then after that loss to the Jazz, the Spurs headed out that same night for Denver, which, as we've written here many times, is the most feared place in the league to finish out a back-to-back set. The Nuggets entered this game with a two-day rest advantage.

The Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay due to injuries, and Manu Ginobili left in the third quarter with an injury, but, even though their roster was depleted, the Spurs still held a seven-point lead late in the third quarter.

What happened in the fourth quarter? Well, the Spurs, like many teams, started to crumble. The Nuggets outscored the Spurs 30-19 in the fourth to beat a team that had won 15 of 16 against Denver, including the first two matchups this season. Specifically, the Nuggets closed out the game on a 19-8 run.

Hawks lose to the Pistons 104-98 in Detroit on Feb. 14

MahScore: 9

For Atlanta, this marked their fifth game in seven days, their third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set. It also required late-night travel across a time zone. Ouch. The Hawks faced Milwaukee the night before, then headed out afterward -- losing an hour along the way -- for Detroit.

So, with all that said, you might expect the Hawks to fall short in the fourth, as many teams on schedule alert do. But instead, they faltered early, with just 14 points in the first quarter and 19 in the second, equating to a season-low 33 first-half points. Atlanta also missed 20 of its first 22 3-point attempts.

While the Hawks struggled, the Pistons built a 30-point lead midway through the third quarter.

Hornets lose to the Celtics 134-106 in Boston on Feb. 28

MahScore: 8

You really have to feel for the Hornets and head coach Steve Clifford, with everything he has been through, as we highlighted in February, including painful headaches and sleep deprivation.

This marked not only the Hornets' second schedule alert game of the month, but it was also their fifth game in seven days, their third game in four days and the second of a back-to-back set, with the tail end requiring travel -- and when you tally that all together, the final score makes sense.

The Hornets beat the Bulls in Charlotte on Feb. 27, then left right after for Boston to play the Celtics the next night.

The Celtics entered this game with a one-day rest advantage and quickly pounced. Kyrie Irving scored 34 point in three quarters and the Celtics ultimately registering a season-high in points and field-goal percentage (62.1).

"What we got was what we deserved," Clifford said afterward, according to FOX Sports Southeast. "Our defense was embarrassing."

Bucks lose to the Pistons 110-87 in Detroit on Feb. 28

MahScore: 8

Well, this one went into the ledger as the Bucks' second-largest loss of the season. (They lost by 32 to the Mavericks on Nov. 18.)

What happened? It didn't help that this game was the Bucks' fourth in six days, their third in four days and the second of a back-to-back set, which also required travel across a time zone.

They hosted the Wizards on Feb. 27 in a nationally televised game -- in other words, a game that ended later than usual -- and then head out that same night for Detroit -- losing an hour along the way -- to play a Pistons team that would hold a one-day rest advantage.

If you're looking for an odd statistic, consider that Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, who came into the game averaging nearly 28 points, was held a season-low 11 points and didn't shoot any free throws for only the second time this season. (The only other such instance came Dec. 28.) Antetokounmpo also left the game early in the fourth quarter with an apparent right eye injury.

The Pistons pounded the Bucks in paint points 56-34 and held a 20-point lead in the third quarter. The Bucks also missed their first 11 shots of the fourth quarter, when fatigue can really start to sink in.

"We didn't cool off, we got frozen," Bucks center John Henson said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel's Matt Velazquez. "It's just shots weren't falling. Happens. Every once in a while, you hit a little buzzsaw."

Baxter Holmes

ESPN Senior Writer
Baxter Holmes (@Baxter) is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print, focusing on the NBA. He has covered the Lakers, the Celtics and previously worked for The Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times.

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.