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NBA Playoff Prediction

Results of 10,000 simulations of the NBA Playoffs
By Michael Schneid, WhatIfSports.com
April 17th, 2009

Witness! For the first time since 1964 the city of Cleveland are champions. In 2002-2003 the Cavaliers went 17-65, but that is probably their second best season ever. Due to the team's futility that year, they received the first pick in the draft, which led to the selection of LeBron James, which in turn has led to this moment five years later. The city has endured so many heartbreaks with the Indians and the Browns, and the Cavs have had only brief flirtations with contention. However, we predict that, in 2008-09 "Cleveland Rocks".

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 Cleveland Cavaliers are a very good team. They went 39-2 at home, losing to only the Lakers and the 76ers (when all the starters rested on the final day of the season). Since 2003 the Cavs have gotten better and better, but the offseason acquisition of Mo Williams was the missing piece. The Cavs have tried many different players in the role of sidekick to the King, with little success. Larry Hughes was supposed to fill that void, but he never really fit and was dealt for Ben Wallace, a role player who fits perfectly on this team. This offseason the Cavs overcame their roster frustration when they obtained Mo Williams in a three way trade that cost them Damon Jones, who was seldom used anyway, and Joe Smith, who would later rejoin the team after being waived by the Thunder. Williams was the perfect sharpshooting scorer to pair with James, who commands the attention of the entire defense. Both he and LeBron represented the Cavs in the All-Star Game.

The Cavs' path to the Finals is not all that difficult now that Kevin Garnett will likely miss the entire playoffs. Because of this news, Garnett was not included in this simulation. The Cavs have a 65.3% chance of getting to the NBA Finals, a number which likely would not be so high had we simulated with KG starting and playing normal minutes for Boston. The Cavs are expected to get to the NBA Finals by beating Orlando, which has a 52.4% chance of reaching the conference finals.

Overall, the Cavs lead the way, winning the title 45.9% of the time. Cleveland is followed by Portland (11.4%), the Lakers (9.0%), Orlando (6.8%), Houston (6.3%) and Dallas (5.7%).

The East is really not very exciting as we do not expect any upsets except for Orlando over Boston. Boston and Atlanta may pose a threat, having a 35.3% and 13.6% chance, respectively, of upsetting those top two teams in the conference semifinals. Boston has just a 3.3% chance of repeating as champions without their heart and soul in the lineup. The top three teams in the East all have a better than 70% chance Boston is the lowest at 72.6% - to advance to the conference semifinals. Only Atlanta struggles, having just a 61.2% chance to knock off Dwayne Wade and the Heat. Detroit, which has been to the Eastern Conference Finals six straight seasons, has just a 3.6% chance of making it seven straight.

The West is totally up for grabs. The Lakers are predicted by many to get to the NBA Finals, but the computer sees things differently. The Portland Trail Blazers are an 21.7% chance favorite to get to the NBA Finals out of the West, edging the Lakers who have an 18.6% chance. Portland is expected to face Dallas in the Western Conference Finals after taking out the Lakers in the second round. Portland enters the playoffs out west as the only team not to have made it to the post-season in the previous season, but they have a young, talented core of players led by Brandon Roy, who is quickly emerging as a superstar. They are also deep and versatile with LaMarcus Aldridge, Travis Outlaw, Rudy Fernandez, Jerryd Bayless, Nicolas Batum, and of course 2007 first overall pick Greg Oden. While they may not get a lot of national attention, the Blazers are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the league and generate many second chances from offensive rebounds, while still playing above average defense.

The Lakers have just a 57.9% chance of surviving eighth-seeded Utah. The defending West champs win it all only 9% of the time and get back to the conference finals 18.6%. They are hurt by having to play Utah and either Portland or Houston, three very efficient teams, in the early rounds. Denver is more likely than not to lose in the first round for the sixth straight season, which does not bode well for Carmelo Anthony. The second-seeded Nuggets have arguably their best team in years, yet just a 40.1% chance of knocking off the Hornets. Carmelo Anthony was the third pick in that loaded 2003 draft that saw LeBron land in Cleveland. So with King James capturing his first title, Dwayne Wade already with a ring, and even Darko Milicic (the second overall pick) picking up one with the Pistons, Anthony is on the outside looking in yet again.

Another West upset is likely with the Spurs, who were without Manu Ginobili, losing to the Mavs. The Spurs have only a 34.7% chance of getting by the Mavs, who have the sixth highest percentage to win the NBA Finals. San Antonio has thus far been able to withstand the effects of age on its core, but this may be the beginning of the end.

New Orleans and Utah, two teams that were just a few games from the Western Conference Finals last year, could only manage the bottom two seeds this season. The Blazers may have entered this year as an unlikely Finals contender, but they appear poised to make some noise. Other than Dallas/San Antonio which ends in six, the other three series go to seven games with Chris Paul's Hornets knocking off Denver, Yao and the Rockets falling short against Portland, and the Lakers taking Game Seven from the Jazz. Only one East series goes seven and that is the Hawks eliminating Miami. Chicago wins two against Boston and Detroit and Philly only get one against Cleveland and Orlando respectively. The 76ers are the only team of the sixteen that did not win any championships. Five teams have less than a 1% chance Spurs (0.9%), Denver (0.4%), Detroit (0.4%), Miami (0.3%), and Chicago (0.3%). Detroit is the only team in the bracket with a less than 10% chance to get out of first round (9.6%).

With our recent success of choosing North Carolina to dominate the NCAA basketball tournament, Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl (by four points), the Phillies over the Rays in the World Series, the Celtics taking out the Lakers in NBA Finals (in exactly six games), Detroit over Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup (as of the end of the regular season) and last year's March Madness, we feel we have illustrated the power of our simulation capabilities. Not only can we help you settle historical debates, we have a knack for predicting the outcome of future events as well.

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.

Michael Schneid is the Marketing assistant for WhatIfSports.com. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Michael can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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