We can all speculate who would win the NBA title if the playoffs started today, but with every team at least two thirds of the way through its season, let’s let the numbers do the talking. I constructed a current playoff bracket and looked at how many points per game each team is scoring and surrendering per game this season to determine outcomes. Offenses tend to fluctuate more depending on where the game is played, so I used each team’s home/road scoring splits to determine how many points they would score. I held all teams responsible for marinating a consistent defensive intensity and used their average PPG allowed for both home and road games.
When it came to picking a winner on the projected score, I had to leave some room for error. It is impossible to assume a team will score exactly as many points as they mathematically should, so I used the following parameters.
If a game was projected to be decided by 1.0 points or fewer, I gave the underdog a 50% chance at winning. The team projected to win was awarded the first victory and then wins rotated from that point forward.
If a game was projected to be decided by 1.1 points to 2.0 points, I gave the underdog a 33% chance of winning.
Are some team pacing themselves while others peak early in the season? Maybe. But over 54+ games, here are what the numbers say will happen in late April/early June.
Miami vs Milwaukee
Average score in Miami: Heat win 103.7 – 97.1
Average score in Milwaukee: Heat win 98.9 – 97.5
Series Result: The Bucks have a 21.8% chance of winning one game in this series, which means the current scoring averages predict a Heat sweep.
Indiana vs Boston
Average score in Indiana: Pacers win 97.4 – 92.2
Average score in Boston: Celtics win 93.6 – 92.7
Series Result: The Pacers hold serve at home and split in Boston. Indiana advances in five games, just enough time to get another nice KG sound bite at some point.
New York vs Chicago
Average score in New York: Knicks win 96.7 – 95.3
Average score in Chicago: Knicks win 94.8 – 93.8
Series Result: In the most competitive series of the first round, neither team defends home court on a consistent basis. The Knicks close out the Bulls in Chicago in six games.
Brooklyn vs Atlanta
Average score in Brooklyn: Nets win 96.9 – 95.1
Average score in Atlanta: Hawks win 97.5 – 94.8
Series Result: Home court advantage is currently up in the air between these two (Atlanta is currently .003 percentage points ahead), but the numbers suggest it doesn’t matter. The Hawks ability to keep it close on the road gives them the edge, regardless of where this series begins. Hawks in six.
Miami vs Atlanta
Average score in Miami: Heat win 102.6 – 96.1
Average score in Atlanta: Hawks win 98.5 – 97.8
Series Result: Percentages say that the Heat will drop their first game of the postseason in Atlanta, but with an average 6.5 point advantage at home, that is the only loss projected. The Heat earn a split in Atlanta and dominate at home on their way to winning four of five against the Hawks.
Indiana vs New York
Average score in Indiana: Pacers win 97.6 – 93.9
Average score in New York: Knicks win 95.8 – 92.9
Series Result: This is why the regular season matters. The three point dependant Knicks are much more comfortable at home and are able to extend the Pacers to a seventh game. That being said, the final game will be played in Indiana, where the Pacers have a decided edge. The Pacers win, but the Knicks don’t go down without a fight.
Miami vs Indiana
Average score in Miami: Heat win 99.1 – 93
Average score in Indiana: Pacers win 98.8 – 94.3
Series Result: The Pacers have shown an ability to stare down the Heat this season, and that doesn’t change on the playoff stage. The health and potential emergence of Danny Granger could make this the best series the Eastern Conference has to offer, but ultimately the scrappy Pacers fall just short. The Heat don’t lose at home, and thanks to a dominate regular season, that is good enough. Miami, likely on the shoulders of Dwayne Wade (Paul George matches up well with LeBron), wins the decisive game seven.
San Antonio vs Houston
Average score in San Antonio: Spurs win 104 – 99.3
Average score in Houston: Spurs win 103.7 – 103.3
Series Result: Houston remains the team that no one wants to see, and they prove to be a tough out at home. The Spurs win, but James Harden and the Rockets take a game at home.
Oklahoma City vs Utah
Average score in Oklahoma City: Thunder win 104.3 – 96.7
Average score in Utah: Thunder win 101.5 – 98.9
Series Result: The Thunder are projected to sweep the Jazz, but the series will be closer than you’d expect. The Jazz are tough at home, and with a forceful front line, they at least make Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play the fourth quarter on a nightly basis.
Los Angeles vs Golden State
Average score in Los Angeles: Clippers win 102.4 – 97.3
Average score in Golden State: Clipper win 99.7 – 98
Series Result: Forget that the Clippers are the better team and enjoy Steph Curry against Chris Paul. The defense of Paul gives his team the advantage, but the Warriors are capable of catching fire and stealing a game at home. Lob City advances in five games.
Memphis vs Denver
Average score in Memphis: Grizzles win 97.4 – 96.1
Average score in Denver: Nuggets win 99.3 – 97.8
Series Result: The most competitive series in the West’s first round, with two teams that play very different styles. Per the current standings, the Grizzles are the slight favorite to advance in seven games, thanks to the home court edge. Should the Nuggets ascend to the four seed, they would then be the favorite in game seven.
San Antonio vs Memphis
Average score in San Antonio: Spurs win 97.3 – 94.9
Average score in Memphis: Spurs win 96.6 – 94.5
Series Result: Mathematically speaking, the Nuggets would have a better chance to pull of the upset, but regardless of the opponent the Spurs are heavily favored. Memphis simply lacks the firepower sans Rudy Gay to keep up with San Antonio and could be swept. The Nuggets would be projected to take a home game in their high altitude, but the stats say neither team is stopping the Spurs from advancing.
Oklahoma City vs Los Angeles
Average score in Oklahoma City: Thunder win 101.7 – 97.5
Average score in Los Angeles: Clippers win 100.2 – 98.9
Series Result: In the highest scoring series up to this point, the slightest of edges goes to the Thunder. Kevin Durant’s ability to score at will is a huge asset in a high scoring series as is the home court of Oklahoma City. The Clippers battle on a nightly basis and Chris Paul is good enough to spark the upset, but the percentages side with the Thunder in seven.
San Antonio vs Oklahoma City
Average score in San Antonio: Spurs win 101.1 – 99.9
Average score in Oklahoma City: Thunder win 102.8 – 100.4
Series Result: In a matchup that would feature many storylines, I believe this series comes down to the point guard position. If I’m building a team, I think I would feel better about having Tony Parker, but in a seven game series, the upside of Russell Westbrook is hard to ignore. The numbers say this series is over when the Thunder take a 3-2 lead back to their college like atmosphere, setting up a rematch of last year’s final with the Miami Heat.
Miami vs Oklahoma City
Average score in Miami: Heat win 102.9 – 100.3
Average score in Oklahoma City: Thunder win 103.1 – 98.1
Series Result: On the surface, the statistics as of this very moment point in the direction of the Heat winning a thrilling seven game series. But that could all change if they continue to take the regular season lightly and lose home court advantage. The current numbers suggest that OKC is more likely to defend its home court (5.0 point edge) than the Heat are (2.6 point edge), thus making the Thunder the favorite if they can get four home games. The Heat currently lead the Thunder by .008 percentage points in this hypothetical race for home court in the NBA Finals, something you’ll want to keep an eye on down the stretch. Is it possible the Heat go into cruise control over the final six days (presumably with the one seed clinched) and lose two of their final four games against playoff teams like Boston/Chicago or the every vengeful Cavaliers while the Thunder continue to chase the Spurs?
I’m not going to crown them yet, but the Heat are who we thought they were, and that is the favorite to win another NBA title.