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Schedule alert! Every game tired teams should lose in December

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McGrady: Carmelo 'isn't fitting in with these guys' in OKC (1:48)

Tracy McGrady and Paul Pierce discuss the offensive struggles Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder are having during a slow start to their season. (1:48)

"There was no legs tonight."

"It was like we were walking in mud with everything we did."

"We just didn't have enough."

These are just some of the many NBA axioms used by players and coaches whose teams faced schedule alert scenarios in November and came up short. Such phrases and terms -- including "soft" and "passive" and "lack of energy" -- are littered throughout postgame comments from losing teams in these affairs, subtle signals to a more sinister culprit: fatigue.

As these games unfold, keep an eye out for this type of coded language.

Now as for the games themselves, all told we correctly predicted six of eight games in November in which one team faced a distinct competitive disadvantage because of the schedule, and so far this season, we've correctly picked 10 of 12 such games -- or 83 percent.

How does that figure stack up with predicted expectations?

Well, before the season, 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 lost 63 percent of the time.

In other words, so far this season, we're ahead of where the data predicted we would be ... or we're ahead of schedule, so to speak.

And a quick word on what the schedule alert formula takes into account -- and what it doesn't:

  • It does factor in whether the game is home or away, the time elapsed between tipoffs, how many days of rest one team has versus its opponent in that matchup, the amount of travel involved for a game, and whether that game is part of a longer run, such as a back-to-back or a five-in-seven stretch.

  • It does not factor in the quality of the teams, which players might be injured, or suspended, or ejected, or sat to rest -- or any other factors that are unrelated to the schedule.

That said, here are December's schedule alert games, and below them are recaps of such games for November:

Dec. 2: Memphis at Cleveland | MahScore: 8

This game will cap off a three-games-in-four-days stretch for the Grizzlies that they'll probably want to forget. The first of those games is Wednesday in San Antonio against the mighty Spurs, then the Grizzlies head home and host the Spurs on Friday ... and then, after that game, they head out that same night for Cleveland -- while losing an hour in the process -- to face LeBron James & Co. less than 24 hours later. The Cavaliers will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage.

Update: Grizzlies lose 111-116

Dec. 5: Phoenix at Toronto | MahScore: 8.5

Hope you packed your winter gear, Suns. This game will mark the end of a six-game road trip that starts in Minnesota, weaves through Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Philadelphia before stopping, finally, in Toronto, where the Suns will close out a back-to-back set and play their third game in four days. The Raptors will enter this game with a whopping three-day rest advantage and will be in the midst of a one-week homestand.

Update: Suns lose 113-126

Dec. 5: Utah at Oklahoma City | MahScore: 8

The Jazz will duke it out with the Wizards in Salt Lake City, then head out that same night -- losing an hour in the process -- as they head to Oklahoma City to close out a back-to-back set against Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder. Oklahoma City will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage and will be in the midst of a five-game homestand.

Update: Jazz lose 94-100

Dec. 9: Orlando at Atlanta | MahScore: 8.5

The Magic will need some magic for this one. First, they'll host the Hawks at home on Dec. 6, then host the Nuggets two days later, then head out that same night and head to Atlanta to face the Hawks again -- marking the end of a back-to-back set, their third game in four days and their fifth game in seven days. The Hawks will enter this game with a two-day rest advantage.

Update: Magic lose 110-117

Dec. 9: San Antonio at Phoenix | MahScore: 8

Don't be surprised if Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rests a few players for this game, which, for his squad, will mark the end of a back-to-back set, their third game in four days and their fifth game in seven days. Here's the setup: First, the Spurs will host the Celtics on Dec. 8 in a nationally televised affair (and those always end late), then head out that same night for Phoenix -- while gaining an hour in the process -- to face the Suns less than 24 hours later. Yes, the Spurs shouldn't have too much trouble with the woebegone Suns, but consider the circumstances. The Suns enter this game with a one-day rest advantage.

Update: Spurs win 104-101

Dec. 15: Atlanta at Memphis | MahScore: 8

Don't expect the Hawks to be at their best when closing out a five-games-in-seven-days stretch -- and the tail end of a back-to-back set ... and their third game in four days -- in Memphis. After hosting the Pistons, the Hawks will head out that same night for Bluff City to face a Grizzlies squad that will have a one-day rest advantage.

Dec. 21: Chicago at Cleveland | MahScore: 8

Facing LeBron James is not how most teams would hope to close out a three-games-in-four days stretch, but, alas, that is the task for the Bulls here. They'll host the 76ers on the 18th, then the Magic on the 20th, then head out that same night for Cleveland -- while losing an hour in the process -- to face the Cavaliers less than 24 hours later. The Cavaliers will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage.

Dec. 21: Boston at New York | MahScore: 8.5

The numbers say the Celtics won't be enjoying this trip to the Big Apple, where they'll be closing out a five-games-in-seven-days stretch -- and their third game in four days -- against the Kristaps Porzingis-led Knicks. After hosting the Heat on Dec. 20, the Celtics will head out for New York to close out a back-to-back set at Madison Square Garden less than 24 hours later. The Knicks will enter this game with a two-day rest advantage.

Dec. 27: Brooklyn at New Orleans | MahScore: 8.5

After facing the mighty Spurs in San Antonio, the Nets will head out that same night for New Orleans, where they'll face the Pelicans less than 24 hours later. This game marks the third game of a five-game trip for Brooklyn, and it will mark their fifth game in eight days. The Pelicans will enter this game on the fourth day of a one-week homestand with a gigantic three-day rest advantage

Dec. 27: Denver at Minnesota | MahScore: 8

First, this game marks the third road game in six days for the Nuggets, who will host the Jazz on Dec. 26, then head out that same night for Minnesota -- while losing an hour in the process -- to face the Timberwolves, who will enter this game with a one-day rest advantage. The Nuggets will have played the Timberwolves one week earlier, on Dec. 20, but between then and the rematch, the Timberwolves will have played just two games while the Nuggets will have played three.


November's schedule alert games

Bucks lose to the Hornets in Charlotte, 126-121, on Nov. 1

MahScore: 8

After suffering a blowout loss at home to the Thunder, the Bucks headed out that same night to Charlotte -- losing an hour in the process -- to close out a back-to-back set and play their third game in four days. And this game, against the Hornets, marked the first time that Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo looked human. He entered the night leading the NBA in scoring, at 33.7 points per game, but "the Greek Freak" was held to a season-low 14 points and 13 rebounds against the Hornets. He also scored only five points in the final three quarters.

"I just missed shots, I think that was what happened tonight," he said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which noted that Antetokounmpo, who shot 5-of-16 from the floor, missed layups and even air-balled a floater. "I don't see any defense that affects me. I can shoot over guys easily, but there were no legs tonight. It was back-to-back games and I just missed shots, that's it."

Nets lose to the Nuggets in Denver, 112-104, on Nov. 7

MahScore: 8

The Nets fell victim to the NBA's most feared traveling scenario -- heading to Denver to play the second of a back-to-back set against the Nuggets. After beating the Suns in Phoenix, the Nets trekked to the Mile-High City that same night and, less than 24 hours later, faced Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic, whose team was coming off two days of rest between games for just the second time this season. And Jokic looked refreshed, tallying a career-high 41 points -- while the Nets' starters combined for 40, total. Jokic also added 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. The Nets, meanwhile, committed a season-high 25 turnovers (eight from point guard D'Angelo Russell), and only three Nets players scored in double figures.

"I don't think we had the requisite juice. The execution wasn't good," Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters after the game. "It was like we were walking in mud in everything we did." Nets swingman DeMarre Carroll added, according to the New York Post: "We've got to learn how to play on back-to-backs. ... We kind of took the night off. That's something you can't do in the NBA."

Pacers lose to the Pistons in Detroit, 114-97, on Nov. 8

MahScore: 8.5

The Pistons entered this game after having been off for three days. For the Pacers, it marked their sixth game in nine days and the second of a back-to-back set after playing the Pelicans at home the night before. You can probably guess what happened next. The Pacers were outscored 37-22 in the second quarter and never recovered. They were crushed on the boards (50-38) and in points in the paint (56-36). Indiana's Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson all struggled with foul trouble. And the Pacers, who were without center Domantas Sabonis (calf injury), shot just 7-of-24 from 3-point range.

"They made some plays, and once again, we didn't get the stops we needed," Pacers coach Nate McMillan told reporters afterward. "It looked like we were a little fatigued tonight, and we just didn't have enough."

Rockets win against the Pacers in Indianapolis, 118-95, on Nov. 12

MahScore: 8

On Nov. 9, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni announced that his team wouldn't hold a morning shootaround on game days, bucking the NBA tradition in order to squeeze in a few more hours of rest. He cited how his team didn't hold one in New York on Nov. 1 because they were caught up in traffic.

"We missed it and came out with a lot of energy" in their blowout win over the Knicks, D'Antoni said, according to the Houston Chronicle. They didn't hold one two days later in Utah, because it was a 6 p.m. local tip, "and we came out with a lot of energy" in a blowout win over the Jazz, D'Antoni said. So he thought they'd try it again, a move that he said "made sense."

And so it was, on Nov. 1, when New York City traffic caused the Rockets to miss shootaround, that the Rockets kicked off the first of two six-game winning streaks in November, which included being the first team to win a schedule alert game this season. After beating the Grizzlies at home on Nov. 11, the Rockets headed out that same night for Indianapolis -- losing an hour in the process -- and arrived at 3 a.m. to face the Pacers, who entered the game with a one-day rest advantage. Though it marked the Rockets' third game in four days, they opened the game on a 13-2 run and never looked back, leading by as many as 23.

"Everybody knows we have this schedule. It's a [bit] of a marathon," D'Antoni said, according to the Chronicle. "That's what makes the NBA great. It's not easy. It shouldn't be easy." After the win, the Rockets cited a grueling back-to-back session from last season that helped them win this one. "It was a very difficult back-to-back, coming Houston to here, and it's good to get a win like this," Rockets guard Eric Gordon said, according to the Chronicle. "That was the toughest one, Golden State to Denver, but this one was similar. We feel we can win every game, no matter what the schedule is."

Bulls lose to the Jazz in Salt Lake City, 110-80, on Nov. 23

MahScore: 8

After losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles, the Bulls headed out that same night and, losing an hour as they crossed time zones, arrived in Salt Lake City at about 3 a.m. local time. The Jazz entered the contest with a one-day rest advantage, but they were without star center Rudy Gobert (knee). No matter. The Bulls shot just 5-of-21 from 3-point range, had 16 turnovers while forcing just seven, and scored a season-low 11 fourth-quarter points. Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen shot just 1-of-9, scoring three points. The Jazz outscored the Bulls by 30 over the final 29:23 and won by that margin -- their biggest home win of the season thus far.

"There's going to be a lot of nights like this," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, according to the Bulls' team website. "It's a tough back-to-back, but it's not an excuse. Every team in the league plays games like this. When you get in, when you lose time traveling on a back-to-back after a tough emotional loss, you've got to find a way to dig in and be the harder-playing team. We weren't tonight. They physically dominated us."

The Bulls fell to 0-3 on the tail end of back-to-back sets this season.

Suns lose to the Pistons in Detroit, 131-107, on Nov. 29

MahScore: 8

After a win over the Bulls in Chicago a day earlier, the Suns headed out that same night -- losing an hour in the process -- for Detroit to close out a back-to-back set and play their third game in four days, all of them coming on the road. What proceeded next was brutal. The Pistons, who entered the game with a one-day rest advantage, scored a season-high 36 points in the first quarter and led by that many in the second half en route to their highest-scoring game of the season thus far.

"We weren't as sharp as we needed to be against that team," Phoenix coach Jay Triano said, according to The Arizona Republic. "They had a day to prepare and we didn't, and they went right past us and made every play they wanted to make."

As for Triano's Suns? Well, Alex Len and Mike James missed uncontested dunks, according to the Republic, and the Suns' defense was nonexistent.

"It's not about losing. It's about the way we lost," forward Jared Dudley said, via the Republic. "When you're playing a team like this, they're either getting 3s or dunks, and for us, what are we are going to take away? I thought they got both." Said Triano: "I think there are games that are schedule games, but we can't make excuses. Everybody else goes through it as well. This is a tough one after last night [the win in Chicago], the travel and the fatigue, but we can still be better than we were."

Wizards lose to the 76ers in Philadelphia, 118-113, on Nov. 29

MahScore: 8

After topping the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, the Wizards headed out that same night -- losing an hour in the process -- for Philadelphia to close out a back-to-back set against a 76ers squad that had a one-day rest advantage. The Wizards were without John Wall (sore left knee), but they also showed signs of fatigue early, missing seven of their first eight shots. Star guard Bradley Beal missed part of the first half after taking a shot to the face on a drive to the hoop, and the 76ers quickly took advantage, building a double-digit lead in the first quarter and then going ahead by 24 in the second half. Wizards coach Scott Brooks, upset with what he considered a lack of energy, then benched most of his starters and instructed their replacements to hack 76ers rookie Ben Simmons throughout the fourth quarter, sending him to the free throw line.

"The message is you've got to play hard. I'm a simple coach," Brooks said, according to The Washington Post. "You play hard. You play for your teammates. If you don't do that, I've got to figure out who will."

For the record, Brooks' tactic worked, somewhat, as the Wizards whittled the lead down to three, but it fell short. Simmons, meanwhile, who entered the game shooting 56.6 percent from the line, shot 15-of-29, with 24 of those attempts coming in the fourth quarter -- an NBA record. The Wizards, meanwhile, received just eight points from Otto Porter, who misfired on 11 of 14 attempts, after he scored 22 the night before. And center Marcin Gortat finished with just two rebounds.

"The pace is slow. We're just coming out with no energy," Beal said, according to the Post. "I think that's pretty much all it is. Energy and effort. We've got the talent."

Timberwolves beat the Pelicans in New Orleans, 120-102, on Nov. 29

MahScore: 9

The Timberwolves needed a break -- a big one. After falling to the Wizards at home, the Timberwolves headed out that same night for New Orleans to close out a back-to-back set (and play their third game in four days) against the Pelicans, who entered the game with a gargantuan three-day rest advantage. But in our first of our nine "red alert" games this season, the Timberwolves, who trailed 10-2 to start the game, got that break midway through the second quarter, during a span of 15 seconds. In that brief window of time, Pelicans star center Anthony Davis, who had scored 17 points in 18 minutes of play, was tagged with two technical fouls for arguing with the referees, leading to the first ejection of his six-year NBA career. At the time, the Timberwolves led by two. But after Davis was booted from play, the Timberwolves went on a 12-0 run, built a 62-49 halftime lead and led by 20 in the third quarter.

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry pointed out the obvious, saying that Davis' ejection "changed everything." Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins, who has received a technical or two in his time, called Davis' ejection "bogus." But Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't hearing it. "In the NBA, there's an excuse every night, whether it's travel, injuries, back-to-backs," he said, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Or you can make good. When the ball goes up, you have to be ready to go."