While the NBA has likely the most balanced schedule of the four major sports, the realities of divisions, travel, rest, and other factors make complete balance impossible.

With that said, ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle ran the new 2016-17 schedule through a simulator that takes all of those factors into consideration, and then compared the results to win totals predicted by a number of other, pre-schedule simulations.

Based on the differences, here’s what those projection models forecast as the five toughest and five easiest schedules.

Celtics 3.34
Jazz 3.29
Raptors 3.10
Trail Blazers 2.85
Hawks 2.75
Largely by virtue of playing in the Atlantic Division, which means 12 games against the Nets, Sixers, and Knicks, the Celtics and Raptors have the easiest routes of any East playoff teams, with Boston also benefiting from some extra rest.

It’s also interesting to note the Jazz’s presence on this list, as Utah is already one of the league’s most improved teams, and any schedule-related help could go a long way toward ending Salt Lake City’s five-year playoff drought.

Nets 5.32
76ers 5.07
Suns 4.69
Lakers 4.37
Warriors 4.28
On other side of the ledger, it makes sense to see the four worst teams from last season facing the toughest schedules, as a downside of being one of the league’s cellar-dwellers is that you can’t play against yourself.

The Warriors’ presence here is intriguing, however. Kevin Durant’s new team obviously has the talent to threaten Golden State’s 73-win record even if it’s not a goal of theirs, but a schedule that ranks among the NBA’s toughest could derail that pursuit.

Data courtesy ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle


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