Sports

NBA Releases Schedule for Orlando Games, Zion Williamson and New Orleans Pelicans Draw Easiest Slate

On Friday, the NBA released the schedule of games the 22 teams headed down to Orlando will play starting in about a month. All games will take place at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort.

Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans drives in a March 8 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the last game the Pelicans played before COVID-19 forced the NBA to suspend the season (Image: Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports)

The action tips off on July 30 with a doubleheader featuring the Utah Jazz versus the New Orleans Pelicans in game one, followed by a battle of Los Angeles, as the Lakers take on the Clippers. The teams will be quarantined at the Disney resort in an attempt to keep players and staff from contracting the coronavirus.

Even though we’re still a month away from tipoff, FanDuel has already come out with point spreads and money lines for games during the first three days of play. On (Re)Opening Night, the Pelicans and Clippers are each one-point favorites.

The largest spread so far in any game from FanDuel is five points. The Milwaukee Bucks are giving the Boston Celtics that on July 31, and the Clippers are yielding that to the Pelicans the next day.

Oddsmakers will not need to factor home-court advantage in any of these games, since they’re all played at Disney’s neutral courts and no fans will be allowed to watch in person.

Once August hits, hoops bettors will be in heaven. According to Kevin O’Connor, an NBA analyst for The Ringer, each day will feature up to seven games, with tip times ranging from noon to 9 p.m. ET.

Each team will play eight games, with those results added to the record they had when the NBA suspended the season on March 11 after Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.

New Orleans Schedule Advantage

The league will use the records to determine seedings in each conference. The top seven teams in both conferences will be guaranteed spots. The teams with the eighth-best records in each conference will be guaranteed, too, unless the ninth-place team is within four games of them in the standings.

If that’s the case, those two teams will duel in a two-game matchup. The eighth seed would advance by winning one game, while the ninth-seeded team would need to win both to earn the final playoff spot.

A team to keep an eye on when play resumes is the Pelicans. After they play the Jazz and Clippers, their final six games are against opponents with records under .500. In fact, according to John Schuhmann, an advanced stats writer for NBA.com, the Pelicans are the only team of the 22 going to Orlando that have a remaining strength of schedule that’s under .500.

That’s not intentional, by the way. In a release, the league stated it picked most of the 88 games from the 259 contests that were remaining when play was suspended nearly four months ago. Of the 22 teams still playing, the Pelicans’ strength of schedule to end the regular season was the easiest as well.

Still, that hasn’t kept some on social media from making it the newest conspiracy theory for the league, since the Pelicans are led by Zion Williamson. The top pick in last year’s draft missed the Pelicans’ first 44 games because of a knee injury, but he’s lived up to the hype in playing 19 of the team’s last 20 games. He’s averaged 23.6 points and shot 58.9 percent to put the Pelicans in contention for a playoff spot.

Once Williamson started playing, his games became must-see TV.

Why did the NBA invite 22 teams instead of the 16 in the playoffs for increased safety?” tweeted Newsday NBA columnist Steve Popper. “Well, look at who’s in the opening game – Zion and the Pelicans.”

Right now, the Pelicans (28-36) are in a three-way tie for ninth place in the Western Conference. New Orleans stands 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies.

Pelicans Playoff Odds Still Long

Oddsmakers aren’t necessarily convinced the Pelicans will be able to make up the ground.

DraftKings odds on New Orleans making the NBA Playoffs right now is +350, meaning a $100 bet nets $350. The Pelicans odds to not make it are -560, meaning a $560 bet bets $100.

FanDuel isn’t offering two-way betting. but it does offer odds on which team will be the Western Conference’s final playoff team. The Pelicans are the second choice at +380.

The Grizzlies are the favorites at -160.

Steve Bittenbender

Horse Racing, Sports Betting, Gaming Legislation, Midwest and Gulfport Casinos----Steve Bittenbender is a veteran reporter, and brings more than two decades of experience covering sports, gaming business, and politics and legislation to Casino.org, which he joined in 2019. Based in Louisville, Kentucky -- the epicenter of the US horse racing industry -- Steve has also covered major collegiate and professional sports for the Associated Press and the Louisville Courier Journal, and is frequently featured on local network TV newscasts and podcasts for his horse racing business and legislative expertise. A Reuters contributor, he has also previously served as editor for Government Security News. Steve lives with his wife and son, and is an avid poker player, having learned from his uncle as a wholesome after-school pasttime with cookies and milk. Email: stevebittenbender@casino.org

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