After correctly predicting every game of the Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final Four and Championship of the NCAA tournament and presenting its NHL Playoff Preview, the WhatIfSports.com computer now focuses on professional basketball. Similar to those two stories, we have simulated the NBA Playoffs 10,000 times in order to determine the exact likelihood of each of the 16 teams making it to any level. As one could expect, one of the conferences is chalk, while the other is totally up for grabs.
Thorough results of the simulations can be found at BracketPreview.com. A recap of some of the more interesting points is below, but we encourage you to check out the Bracket Preview page to see it all.
The only exciting thing about the Eastern Conference playoffs may be that two really good teams should face each other in the conference finals. Top seeds, Boston and Detroit, are the most likely participants to face each other for a shot at the Finals at 62.6% and 34.1% respectively. However, the next two best teams could make some noise. Last year's Eastern Conference Champion, Cleveland, is actually the most likely team from the East to make it out of the first round at 72.2% over Washington, a team it has played in the previous two post-seasons as well. Orlando, the three seed, is probably much better than people think. In fact, the Magic fall just 0.2% below Detroit in likelihood of making the conference finals and are slightly more likely to play in and win the NBA Finals than the Pistons. Statistically, Orlando may be the better team. In this analysis though, they have the toughest time getting past a very efficient Toronto squad in the first round. Almost exactly three-quarters of the time, Boston (35.0%), Detroit (19.7%) or Orlando (20.0%) makes the Finals. The championship will likely come from the other conference though as just 40.3% of the titles are won by Eastern Conference teams (12.8% by Boston).
The West is a completely different story with upsets (by seed) galore. In the first round, Utah, which does not even have the crucial home-court advantage (yes, we account for that) against Houston, is actually the only better seeded team to advance - meaning that the road teams win every series. Facing a Rockets' squad without its star center and likely without its point guard for most of the series, the extremely efficient Jazz have the easiest path to the conference semifinals, winning 88.4% of the time in the first round. Six seed Phoenix and seven seed Dallas were the top two seeds last season and play like it in the playoffs this year, winning the first round 71.8% and 66.4% of the time respectively (and revenge is not even programmed into the sim for the Phoenix - San Antonio series).
The biggest surprise of the first round though, comes from the eighth seeded Denver Nuggets. When we analyzed the Western Conference after the trade deadline and Yao's injury, the computer correctly identified the Nuggets as a team likely to make the playoffs, despite the fact that they trailed Golden State at the time. While 50 wins means homecourt in the much weaker East, it barely puts Denver into the playoffs. However, the team is extremely potent offensively and has the interior presence with Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin that can keep the Lakers newly found post game with Pau Gasol in check. Interestingly, these teams have not played since the trade that sent Gasol to L.A.
Ultimately, the WhatIfSports.com NBA bracket concludes with the Western Conference survivor on top. Utah has the highest chance of winning the tournament at 21.2%. That is not exceptionally high, which is a sign that the playoffs should be great again this year, but the Jazz are the best team in the league. Looking into the numbers, Utah is really good and without an obvious weakness. The Jazz are in the top two in the conference in critical efficiency statistics like field goal percentage, adjusted field goal percentage, field goal percentage margin, rebounding percentage, as well as scoring margin - not to mention third in assist-to-turnover ratio and turnovers forced. With Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur starting and very solid role players like Kyle Korver, Matt Harpring and Paul Millsap coming off the bench, this is an extremely well-crafted team without a redundant player. After the Jazz, four other teams, Boston (12.8%), Phoenix (10.9%), Orlando (10.2%) and Denver (10.0%) are in the double-digit percentages for championship likelihood. The top-seeded Lakers win it all 6.3% of the time, while the defending champion Spurs do it just once every 30 or so times. Every team, including Atlanta, wins the championship at least 0.4% of the time - or at least 40 out of 10,000 tries.
Once the NBA Finals are set, Beyond the Boxscore will have an in-depth feature with boxscores, play-by-play and game recaps for each game of the series.
Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Product Manager for WhatIfSports.com. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!