NBA Playoffs: Predicting the East

UPDATE: I tweaked things a little bit due to changes in point differentials from the last two days of the season.  Everything below is up-to-date.

As of last night the Eastern Conference playoff bracket has been set.  We have to wait a day or two for the West to shake out, but in the meantime let’s start on some predictions.  I’ll be using my NBA playoff prediction model to pick the series winner and how long each series will go.  To up the ante, I’ll make picks after each round, as in the TrueHoop Smackdown, and just predict the whole thing right now so that we can all look back and laugh at how badly things go wrong.  The model works on point differential, which may change in the next two days, but probably not enough to change the predictions in any meaningful way.

Chicago – Indiana: Chicago makes a good case for being the best team in the league, sporting the second-best record (with a chance to catch the Spurs) and being tied for best differential in the league (with the Heat).  Indiana makes a good case for being the worst team in the playoffs, with the worst record and worst differential (although they aren’t far behind the Hawks).  As you might guess, the Bulls should move on easily.  They have a 97% chance of winning, and will probably end the series in a sweep.

Miami – Philly: Miami can make a claim to being the best team in the league as well, based on point differential.  They might also end up with home court advantage against anyone in the West besides the Spurs if they can get to the finals.  Beating Philly shouldn’t be too tough.  The Heat have a 92.8% chance of winning, most likely 4-0.

Boston – New York: Boston has looked terrible recently.  Is that enough to give the Knicks a chance?  The model is agnostic, by which I mean it only cares about performance over the whole season.  So the answer is no: Boston should win 87.8% of the time, most likely 4-1.

Orlando – Atlanta: Usually a 4-5 match-up is a bit closer, and Atlanta in fact has a 3-1 record against Orlando this year.  But that doesn’t seem to matter very much, and the East is basically four teams deep followed by a big drop-off.  And, as mentioned earlier, the Hawks are far worse than their record indicates; they’ve actually scored less than their opponents over the course of the season.  So Orlando wins 93.5% of the time, probably in a sweep (very close over 4-1).

The first round doesn’t appear to be very exciting.  That shouldn’t be too surprising, since it’s hard for underdogs to win best-of-7 series.  Also, as I said, the East is very top-heavy.  On to the second round, which should be more enjoyable.

Chicago – Orlando: Chicago is two points better than the Magic, which gives them a 75.5% chance of winning (along with home court advantage).  By this point Derrick Rose may have the MVP trophy in hand, so we can expect to hear all sorts of crazy stories about his magnificence for another few weeks.  The series should go to 6 games.

Miami – Boston: Miami is also two points better than Boston, so the predictions are the same as for Chicago-Orlando.  If you believe that Boston is significantly weaker since the trade, you can lower your expectations.  I’m still going to go with the Heat 4-2.

Conference Championship: We should have the Bulls hosting the Heat.  Since they have a slightly lower point differential, the Bulls have done themselves a big favor by having home court advantage.  It gives them a 57% chance of winning the series, most likely 4-2.  So I pick the Bulls to get to the championship series, where they’ll be the favorite to win it all even if they don’t have home court, which they most likely will.  But the specifics on that will have to wait until the West bracket is set.

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8 Responses to NBA Playoffs: Predicting the East

  1. Deron says:

    In reference to the conference championship prediction: Home court advantage in the NBA playoffs is overstated. The team that has home-court advantage has a better record and is usually a better team.

    • Alex says:

      Home court advantage comes out in the model, which also has a variable to account for team strength. So home court and strength are confounded, but we also know that home court advantage exists from the regular season. For what it’s worth, the same model applied to the NHL does not find a home ice advantage, so it isn’t a product of the model itself. So I think there is a home court advantage, but you’re welcome to disagree.

      • Deron says:

        You’re are absolutely right; home-court does exist. However, while I don’t deny the existense of home-court advantage, I still think it is overstated in Game Sevens. The aim of the article was to point out the incomplete analysis of Game 7 stats. Commentators repeat the stat year after year as if the home teams’ record in Game 7 is only because they’re at home; they always fail to at least mention that the home team in a Game 7 is usually the better team.

        • Alex says:

          Fair enough. For what it’s worth, my model never thinks that a 7 game series is the most likely outcome. We almost certainly won’t see one in the first round in the East.

  2. EntityAbyss says:

    Damn, nobody has faith in the heat anymore lol. I think the heat have a better top 6 than the bulls. Also, if Haslem can make his way back, and play 80% or greater, the Heat have to be that team.

    • Alex says:

      I’m not saying that I don’t think the Heat can win, it just isn’t what the model says (even then they still have a 40% shot, which isn’t that low). Arturo will probably give the Heat a better shot because he definitely adjusts for the shorter benches used in the playoffs. I’d almost rather see the Heat win, this Rose for MVP stuff has put me off the Bulls so much.

  3. Pingback: Wednesday Podcast – The Playoffs! « Arturo's Silly Little Stats

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