On Thursday, the NBA released the full-season schedules for each team. And while those schedules will all end up having the same amount of road and home games, 40 apiece this season for the first time because of the NBA Cup, often there can be small portions of the schedule that stand out.
For example, last season, the Bucks’ schedule featured 10 road games of their 15 games in December. When the schedule was released, we noted how that could end up being a difficult month and that is what ended up happening. The struggles in that portion of the season were clearly exacerbated by Khris Middleton’s lingering injury issues, but the Bucks recorded an 8-7 record in December, which was not only their worst month of the season but also featured a season-long four-game losing streak at the end as well.
So what stands out for the Milwaukee Bucks in their schedule for the 2023-24 season? Let’s take a look.
First things first
For the first time in five seasons, the season opener will feature a brand-new head coach, Adrian Griffin, who will get his first chance at recording a win in Fiserv Forum on Oct. 26 against the Philadelphia 76ers. For Griffin, not only will it be a chance for a victory, but it will also be his first head-to-head meeting with Nick Nurse, the 76ers’ new head coach. Griffin worked for Nurse as lead assistant coach in Toronto the last five seasons.
On top of the significance for Griffin personally, the game will serve as the Bucks’ first “big” regular season game of the season. It will be televised on TNT, the network’s first Thursday slate of games of the season. While their opponent might still be mired in the controversy of James Harden’s contract situation, it will be the Bucks’ first game against another Eastern Conference title contender.
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The season opener will be the first time fans get to see how the first-time head coach builds lineups and rotations, uses his star players in big games, staggers the big three, and tries to close out games. Griffin will likely change things as the season progresses, but with minutes limits in the preseason, that first game will offer an initial glimpse at the fully formed ideas that will be the Bucks strategy under their new head coach.
NBA Cup changes
One of the most notable changes to the Bucks’ schedule (and that of the other 29 teams) this season is that it starts with just 40 home games and 40 road games. For the first time in NBA history, teams will have floating dates on their schedule because of the NBA Cup.
Earlier this week, the NBA announced the groups for the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament and the first four games on the Bucks schedule:
- Friday, Nov. 3: Bucks vs. Knicks, 6:30 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 17: Bucks at Hornets, 6 p.m.
- Friday, Nov. 24: Bucks vs. Wizards, 6 p.m.
- Tuesday, Nov. 28: Bucks at Heat, 6:30 p.m.
Based on last season’s win-loss records, the Eastern Conference was split into three groups (Groups A, B and C) and the Bucks were placed in Group B, along with the Heat, Hornets, Knicks and Wizards. Their performance in the four group games will decide whether or not the Bucks are one of the eight teams that will qualify for the tourney’s knockout stage.
If they make their way to the championship game, they will end up playing 83 games this season. If the Bucks are one of the 22 teams that does not qualify for group play, the final two games on the regular season schedule will be filled out by scheduling games on Dec. 6 and 8 against other teams eliminated in the group stage.
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While the novelty of the event alone might be enough to get Bucks fans to watch the games, any matchup against the Heat should be must-see TV next season as Miami eliminated the Bucks in the playoff’s first round last season.
Matchups against the top of the East
Speaking of Miami …
During the five years of Mike Budenholzer’s tenure, the Heat were one of three Eastern Conference teams, along with the Raptors and Celtics, that the Bucks failed to record better than a .600 winning percentage against in regular season games. Outside of the Bucks’ championship season in 2021, those were also the three teams that eliminated the Bucks from the postseason during Budenholzer’s time as coach.
While the Raptors have not been seen as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference since Kawhi Leonard left, the Heat and Celtics are still viewed as two of the Eastern Conference’s best teams heading into next season. So, with Griffin taking over, will the Bucks’ (relative) struggles against Boston and Miami continue? Or will the Bucks perform better in games against the East’s best teams?
The Bucks will get their first chance to show what they can do with a new coach against the Heat in the third game of the season, Oct. 30 in Milwaukee. As of now, they will play the Heat three times in the regular season (though, the total number of meetings could change if both teams qualify for the tourney’s knockout stage) with the aforementioned matchup on Nov. 28 in Milwaukee for the In-Season Tournament and a Feb. 13 meeting in Miami currently on the schedule.
This season, the Bucks will take on the Celtics four times:
- Wednesday, Nov. 22: Bucks at Celtics, 6:30 p.m.
- Thursday, Jan. 11: Bucks vs. Celtics, 6:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, Mar. 20: Bucks at Celtics, 6:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, Apr. 9: Bucks vs. Celtics, 6:30 p.m.
Boston made a big move this offseason by trading for Kristaps Porzingis, which should allow the Celtics to stay in the conversation for contention in the Eastern Conference, even if they end up playing in a slightly different way. The Bucks’ four matchups against the Celtics should once again serve as strong indicators as to exactly where the Bucks stand during the regular season.
The Apr. 9 matchup could be particularly interesting in regard to playoff seeding if both teams end up having strong campaigns because it is the Bucks’ fourth-to-last game of the season. With two games against the Orlando Magic sandwiched around a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder to end the season after the C’s game, both teams may have an interesting choice to make in regard to competitiveness, especially if they want to set up certain playoff matchups.
Potential problem areas
It is difficult to predict the exact portions of a season in which a team will struggle because an NBA season will affected by an unpredictable series of injuries, which may make certain games that looked tough in August much easier when the games are actually played. But, there will always be spots that look difficult when a team’s schedule is released. For the Bucks next season, there are a couple that stand out.
After finishing up the In-Season Tournament at the start of December, the Bucks will play six straight home games against six teams that did not make the playoffs last season from Dec. 11-21. While that will be nice, it sets up a tough couple of weeks around Christmas. Starting with a Dec. 23 matchup against the Knicks, the Bucks will play seven of their next eight games on the road, which will likely mean just two nights of sleeping in their own beds between Dec. 22 and Jan. 6.
The Bucks’ longest road trip of the season (five games) starts on Jan. 29 with a matchup against the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets, but that likely won’t be the road-heavy portion of the schedule that gives the Bucks the most trouble in the second half of the season. The toughest part of the Bucks’ schedule, on looks alone, comes immediately out of the All-Star break.
Eight of the Bucks’ first 10 games after the break take place on the road, including a four-game west coast trip against the Warriors, Lakers, Clippers and Kings. Following that road-heavy stretch, the Bucks play the 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Celtics (road) and Brooklyn Nets. Overall, the Bucks will play nine of their first 14 games on the road coming out of the All-Star Break and 11 of those 14 games will be against playoff teams from last season. As it stands, six months away from the games actually being played, that stretch appears as though it could play a major part in defining the Bucks’ regular season success.
The Bucks are once again among the most televised teams in the NBA with 30 of their games on national TV, tying them for fifth-most with the Nuggets. That figure includes 11 games broadcast on NBA TV. Despite their early exit from the postseason and any uncertainty that might come with employing a new head coach, the Bucks will continue to be one of the league’s premier television teams as long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the roster, which is quite a feat in one of the league’s smallest markets.
(Photo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler: Stacy Revere / Getty Images)