NBA Top 6: Easiest and hardest early schedules
The NBA season kicks off Tuesday, and some teams will have an easier time of it than others in the early going.
Here are three teams with easy schedules over the first five games, along with three teams that have a tough opening sked:
The Pacers represent one of the few teams in the Eastern Conference capable of knocking off the Miami Heat - and they've been handed a gift opening schedule. They'll kick off the season with games against non-contenders Orlando, New Orleans and Cleveland. A visit to Detroit is followed by Indiana's only tough game of the stretch, a home date with Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls.
The Bucks are expected to challenge for one of the final East playoff berths, and can bolster their chances - albeit infinitesimally - with a friendly opening stretch. Milwaukee opens on the road against the turmoil-riddled New York Knicks and putrid Boston Celtics, then return home to face Toronto, Cleveland and Dallas. A winning record over this span should be close to a given.
New York Knicks
Despite facing plenty of question marks about their roster, the Knicks have a favorable opening to the season. Consecutive games against Milwaukee and Chicago should provide a stiff test, but with just three games over the next nine days - one against Minnesota and two against woeful Charlotte - New York should be fresh and competitive in the second half of that stretch.
No team has a busier early stretch than the Rockets, who play their first five games in a seven-day span. The only easy one in that stretch is the home opener at Charlotte, but Houston will entertain the Dallas Mavericks two nights later before hitting the road for a three-game trek. Facing games against the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers in a four-game stretch will test Houston's early-season fitness level.
It's unclear who the Hawks ticked off at the league office, but something must have happened for Atlanta to end up with such a bizarre - and demanding - season-opening docket. Atlanta visits Dallas in its opener before traveling back to Georgia for a one-game homestand against Toronto. That's followed by road games against the L.A. Lakers, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets.
The good news for Philadelphia - and there isn't that much this season - is that they'll play five of their first six games at home. The bad news: three of those games come against legitimate conference contenders - Miami, Chicago and Golden State. Add in a pair of games against the improving Washington Wizards, and the 76ers may find themselves 0-5 to open the campaign.