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D-League Schedule Released, Conferences Realigned

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[Note: I've updated the schedule breakdowns for Maine, Springfield and Utah - JL]

The D-League released its 2009-2010 schedule this afternoon.  It's been a fairly eventful offseason (okay, maybe not the last week or two), with teams closing up shop (even if only for a year), others moving across the country, another being taken under an NBA team's wing; coaches being fired, coaches being hired; players deciding that playing in Europe or Asia is what their careers need right now.  The NBA schedule being released is a time for beat writers across the country to see what storylines might crop up and note any interesting matchups that may arise.  I'm not a beat writer, but what's good for the NBA is good for the D-League, right?  The month-by-month schedule can be found here.

To paraphrase the league's press release: the whole thing kicks off November 27 with six games (why watch college football that weekend when the D-League's in town?); the D-League Showcase will be in Boise again this year from January 4-7, but the complete Showcase schedule isn't available yet; a lot of D-League games will be played on the weekend this year; and the Springfield Armor open their season at home, while the Maine Red Claws start on the road before playing their second game in Portland against the Armor.  The press release also contains this quote from league president Dan Reed:

"As the NBA D-League continues to expand its footprint in the Northeast, and with season tickets available in every market for as little as $10 or less per game, more fans and families alike will be able to watch top NBA prospects at affordable prices in a fast-paced, fun, and family-oriented environment."

which means the league either forgot about Bakersfield or is ignoring it.

In the other bit of semi-big news, the league also realigned/consolidated, going from three divisions to two conferences.  I was pretty interested to see how they would do this, since last year's Central Division had teams that are reasonably close to Maine and Massachusetts (Erie) but others that are not (Dakota).  It looks like the Wizards are still a bit stuck (along with the Skyforce), but maybe if/when Harlem gets a D-League team one or both of them can (re)join the West.  Though I also assume that next year's Frisco team will be in the West with its Texas brethren, and even that would put the Western teams at 10 to the East's seven, which in a 17 team league is a somewhat-significant discrepancy.  I can tell you that as it stands right now, Teddy Roosevelt would be appalled.  It will also be interesting (again, to me anyway) to see how they handle the playoffs this year, and whether they take the top eight regardless of conference and still let the top teams pick their opponents.  Here they are:

Eastern Conference Western Conference
Dakota Wizards Albuquerque Thunderbirds
Erie BayHawks Austin Toros
Fort Wayne Mad Ants Bakersfield Jam
Iowa Energy Idaho Stampede
Maine Red Claws LA D-Fenders
Springfield Armor Reno Bighorns
Sioux Falls Skyforce Rio Grande Valley
Tulsa 66ers
Utah Flash

Hit the jump for my quick team-by-team breakdown of the schedule, at least as it looks now. 

Albuquerque Thunderbirds: Albuquerque has a nine-game home stretch from January to February, but plays its last nine games of the season on the road.  Ouch.  They also only play new kids Springfield and Portland once and twice, respectively, with those games kicking off that last road trip before the Thunderbirds gradually make their way back west.

Austin Toros: I was mostly curious to see how next March looks.  That's the month SXSW is in town (meaning the convention center, where the Toros play, is busy being a convention center), and last year the Toros had 10 games in March, nine of which were on the road.  This year it's a little bit better, with seven road games out of 14 total.  Those seven road games are consecutive, but other than an initial contest in Tulsa (which is actually the second game of a home-and-home) the Toros play two games apiece against Rio Grande Valley, Dakota and Bakersfield in that stretch.  And their last eight games of the season are at home, so it evens out.

Bakersfield Jam: Nothing really jumps out at me about the Jam schedule, at least not in terms of long road- or home-tretches.  The Jam travel to the east coast only once, playing back-to-back games against Maine in late December, but all other games against the Red Claws and Armor are going to be played in California.

Dakota Wizards: The Wizards also got hosed for an end-of-season schedule, though not quite to the extent that Albuquerque did, with seven of their last eight games coming on the road.  They'll have to travel to Iowa, then Erie, then back to Dakota, then back to Iowa, then finally to the Rio Grande Valley, all within about two weeks.

Erie BayHawks: Erie starts the season with four games on the road, and don't play their home opener until December 12, when they start a three-game series against the Red Claws.  The BayHawks also play (in) Maine on New Year's Day, which comes after a December 29th game at home.  And they play their final game in Maine, after playing a home game the day before.  I know Pennsylvania isn't that far from Portland, Maine, but that could get taxing.  Another little anomaly is a game in Austin on January 19th, followed by two home games against Rio Grande Valley.  If they're already in Texas, why not just make those last two away games as well?

Fort Wayne Mad Ants: The Mad Ants have a pair of semi-rough stretches, with six away games in January and finishing the season with five more on the road.  It also looks like the Mad Ants play only two three games against Dakota, and no games at all against Idaho or Utah, all of whom made the playoffs last year.  Overall I'd say those two road trips I mentioned aside, Fort Wayne should have a better record next season than they did last year (19-31) based on schedule alone.

Idaho Stampede: Idaho begins the season with four home games and ends it with three home games, so that's nice for them.  The Stampede also play only one game against the Red Claws (at home) and none against the Armor, which is somewhat surprising to me.  I'd thought the league would want to bring all of its teams, but especially one of its best like the Stampede, in to the new arenas.  There's one early patch that could get rough, where Idaho travels to Los Angeles, then to Utah, then to Bakersfield a few days later, with enough time in between that they'll probably go to Idaho in between the last two legs.

Iowa Energy: The Energy start the season on the road, helping the Springfield Armor inaugurate their arena with a pair of games.  They also play a lot of games against Erie.  Like, 10 games a lot.  By my count the next highest total is against Dakota, with seven.  Potentially rough stretch: @Tulsa, @Fort Wayne, @Erie, home, all within nine days.

LA D-Fenders: The D-Fenders have a nice stretch in December-January with eight home games out of 10, and the two road games are in Bakersfield.  They do have a few stretches of five straight road games, though, including to close out the season, so it's not all rosy.  LA is the mirror image of Idaho, in that it has one home game against Springfield but won't play the Red Claws at all.

Maine Red Claws: The Red Claws open their season in the Dakotas with back-to-backs against the Skyforce and Wizards before finally opening their home floor on December 4th.  They're a little like Bakersfield in that within each month there seems to be an relatively even split between home and away games, and overall they have a pretty favorable schedule - only one game apiece against Utah and Idaho, two against Austin and three against Bakersfield, but plenty of contests against Springfield and Fort Wayne.

Reno Bighorns: Reno's last five games are at home, as are 12 of its final 16.  Two of those road games are against LA, and they come in the middle of a long homestretch, but other than making sure they don't play at home for a whole month I don't know why those games weren't piggy-backed to their trip to Bakersfield two weeks earlier.  They Bighorns have a slightly gruesome stretch in February where they have to fly to Fort Wayne, then Massachusetts, then Iowa, then back home.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers: RGV has sort of a grim start to the season, with their first pair of away games in Austin, and six of their first nine games coming on the road.  They travel to Springfield for a game but then have a 10 day break to go home and relax before their next game, and that starts a four-game homestand.

Sioux Falls Skyforce: The Skyforce host the Maine Red Claws' inaugural game on November 27th, which I'm sure will be of historical note at some point, right?  The Skyforce have seven straight road games stretching from February to March, against Iowa, Springfield, Maine, Erie and Fort Wayne.  The Skyforce seem to play the Armor (and to a lesser extent the Red Claws) more than a lot of other western teams.

Springfield Armor: The Armor have a fairly cushy schedule to start the season, with nine of their first 13 games being played on their home court.  They're also going to get familiar with the Red Claws in January, as they have five straight games against the new Maine team along with another one at the end of the month.  As I mentioned in the Idaho paragraph they have no games against the Stampede, but they also have only one game apiece against the LA D-Fenders and Utah Flash.

Tulsa 66ers: Eight of the 66ers' ten January games are at home (not counting the Showcase, of course), while seven of their nine February games are on the road.  Oh, and nine of their 12 December games are on the road as well.  Tulsa plays four games against Iowa this season, and all of them are at home, which seems a bit odd.  They also have only two games against Albuquerque (both at home), which seems odd for a team that's relatively close by.  Maybe they'll face off at the Showcase.

Utah Flash:  It seems like Utah doesn't have too many games against Eastern teams, as they play one each against Sioux Falls, Springfield, Erie and Maine and none against Fort Wayne.  While we don't know how the rosters will look for a few weeks, based on last year's performance the Flash have a fairly tough schedule to finish out, with four games against Idaho, three against Reno and their contest against Erie, along with their last two games on the road in Austin.