NBA Playoff Predictions 2015

2015 NBA PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS AND PREVIEW

WhatIfSports.com presents the 2015 NBA Playoff Predictions and Preview. We simulated the entire schedule of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 1,001 times, taking into account home court advantage and the statistical makeup of each team. The simulation generated each team's round-by-round probability of advancing, available in the table to the right of the bracket.

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Round 1
Conf. Semis
Conf. Finals
NBA Finals
1
8
Hawks
Nets
4
2
4
5
Raptors
Wizards
3
4
3
6
Bulls
Bucks
4
2
2
7
Cavaliers
Celtics
4
2
1
8
Warriors
Pelicans
4
2
4
5
Trail Blazers
Grizzlies
4
3
3
6
Clippers
Spurs
4
3
2
7
Rockets
Mavericks
4
2
1
5
Hawks
Wizards
4
2
3
2
Bulls
Cavaliers
3
4
1
4
Warriors
Trail Blazers
4
1
3
2
Clippers
Rockets
2
4
1
2
Hawks
Cavaliers
4
3
1
2
Warriors
Rockets
4
3
1
1
Hawks
Warriors
2
4

WINNING PERCENTAGES

Eastern Conference
Seed/Team Round 1 Conf. Semis Conf. Finals NBA Finals
2 Cleveland
89.9% 50.8% 30.9% 7.6%
3 Chicago
73.8% 39.5% 27.2% 7.2%
1 Atlanta
87.1% 64.7% 31.3% 6.3%
5 Washington
54.4% 18.8% 4.4% 0.3%
6 Milwaukee
26.2% 8.0% 3.3% 0.3%
4 Toronto
45.6% 12.8% 2.5% 0.2%
8 Brooklyn
12.9% 3.7% 0.3% 0.0%
7 Boston
10.2% 1.7% 0.2% 0.0%
Western Conference
Seed/Team Round 1 Conf. Semis Conf. Finals NBA Finals
1 Golden State
89.7% 86.7% 63.5% 52.6%
2 Houston
82.8% 58.3% 25.5% 19.0%
3 L.A. Clippers
63.5% 24.0% 6.9% 4.3%
6 San Antonio
36.5% 13.0% 2.1% 1.4%
8 New Orleans
10.3% 8.0% 1.2% 0.6%
4 Portland
50.6% 3.1% 0.4% 0.1%
7 Dallas
17.2% 4.7% 0.2% 0.1%
5 Memphis
49.4% 2.2% 0.2% 0.0%
Atlanta Hawks Logo
Brooklyn Nets Logo
1
8
Hawks
Nets
4
2
Hawks
Record: 60-22
Analysis: The Hawks' 60 regular-season victories are the most in the team's history, but it's playoff success the fan base craves. Despite making the postseason for the eighth consecutive year, the Hawks haven't won two playoff series in a season since 1958, back when the team was based in St. Louis.

But this squad doesn't have the same look of recent teams to exit the playoffs early. Their identity starts with second-year coach Mike Budenholzer, formerly a Spurs assistant from 1996 to 2013. The time Budenholzer spent with Greg Popovich is most evident in the team's commitment to defense and ball movement. The Hawks rank fifth in points allowed, surrendering 97.1 points per game. Their motion offense has contributed to even scoring distribution among the starting five, where each member averages between 12.1 and 16.7 points per game.

With the team's first No. 1 seed since 1994, the stakes are raised in Atlanta. Anything short of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals will be a disappointing finish to a stellar season.

Nets
Record: 38-44
Analysis: The Nets are the only team in the postseason with a negative point differential at -2.9. The East's No. 8-seed earned its appearance by beating the Orlando Magic in the final game of the regular season, coupled with a loss by the Indiana Pacers. That makes three consecutive postseason trips for Brooklyn, despite employing four head coaches during the stretch.

Oft-injured Brook Lopez logged 72 games this season, posting 17.2 points, 7.4 boards and 1.8 blocks, all team-highs. Second in the scoring column was Joe Johnson, who averaged 14.4 points per game, his lowest since the 2002-03 season. At point guard, the demise of Deron Williams continues to confound. His scoring output has declined in each of the past three seasons, from 21.0 points per game in 2011-12 to 13.0 points this year.

The Nets played their first-round opponent four times this season, dropping all four games to the Hawks by an average score of 114.0-96.8. Two of those losses came in April. It all adds up a short playoff stay for the Nets.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Hawks 87.1% - Nets 12.9%

Average Score: Hawks 102.6 - Nets 95.3

Series MVP: Jeff Teague - 15.3 PPG, 7.2 APG, 3.0 RPG

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Toronto Raptors logo
Washington Wizards logo
4
5
Raptors
Wizards
3
4
Raptors
Record: 49-33
Analysis: The Raptors are Atlantic Division champions for the second year running. A season ago, the team fell to the Brooklyn Nets in seven games in the first round. This year, the Raptors will need to go through Washington to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for just the second time in franchise history.

Toronto is spearheaded by a talented backcourt. Point guard Kyle Lowry averaged 17.8 points, second-most on the team, while dishing 6.8 assists. Though he's been saddled with an injury, Lowry posted 26 points, seven assists and three steals in his final regular-season tune-up, suggesting that he'll be fully healthy for a playoff run. DeMar DeRozan averaged a team-best 20.1 points and is particularly effective attacking the basket. He converted 6.0 free throws per game at an 83.2 percent clip. Super sub Lou Williams is a candidate for the NBA's Sixth Man award, as the nine-year vet posted a career-high 15.5 points per game.

Big man Jonas Valanciunas may be the key to the Raptors taking the next step. The 22-year-old averaged 12.0 points and 8.7 boards on 57.2 percent shooting. If he can emerge as a more reliable low-post threat, it could vault the Raptors into contention for more than just division championships.

Wizards
Record: 46-36
Analysis: Washington's dynamic backcourt features 24-year-old John Wall and 21-year-old Bradley Beal, a duo that combined for 32.9 points per game. Though both saw their scoring averages drop this season, they each shot career-bests from the field. Wall also averaged a career-high 10.0 assists, second in the league only to Chris Paul's 10.2 average.

Nearly as important to the Wizards' success has been the bruising presence of Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario. The pair give Washington interior size to match any team. Rounding out the Wizards' starting five is small forward Paul Pierce. Though he averaged the fewest minutes of his career, Pierce provides veteran leadership with 15 seasons and an NBA championship to his name.

Washington may have a tough draw with its first-round opponent, having dropped all three regular-season matchups to the Raptors. However, the best indicator of the series may be a January 31st meeting, when both teams were near full strength. Toronto needed overtime to defeat Washington 120-116.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Wizards 54.4% - Raptors 45.6%

Average Score: Wizards 100.2 - Raptors 100.1

Series MVP: John Wall - 16.9 PPG, 10.5 APG, 5.2 RPG

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Chicago Bulls logo
Milwaukee Bucks logo
3
6
Bulls
Bucks
4
2
Bulls
Record: 50-32
Analysis: Chicago navigated to another +45-win season - its fifth in a row - despite battling the injury bug. Derrick Rose (31 games), Jimmy Butler (17 games), Joakim Noah (15 games), Taj Gibson (20 games), Mike Dunleavy (19 games) and Kirk Hinrich (16 games) all missed significant action during the campaign. Credit coach Tom Thibodeau and the emergence of rookie Nikola Mirotic for keeping the bulls afloat. If everyone can return to form during the playoffs, the Bulls will be a formidable matchup for any opponent.

Though Rose was limited to 51 games, it was still his most appearances since the 2010-11 season. At 18.0 points and 5.0 assists per game, he's easily the Bulls' best option at point guard. But the mantle of Chicago's best player has passed to Butler. Always a superb defender, the fourth-year wing had a breakout season on offense, averaging 20.0 points per game. The Bulls also received a boost from Paul Gasol. The 34-year-old turned back the clock with 18.5 points and 11.8 boards per game. Gasol made 78 starts, 11 more than any other Bulls player.

Mirotic averages just 10.2 points on the season, but he was reliable when the Bulls needed him most. During 15 March contests, Mirotic upped his averages to 20.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He'll continue to provide valuable depth during the Bulls' playoff run.

Bucks
Record: 41-41
Analysis: The Bucks are the NBA's third-youngest team, with an average age of 24.2 years old. But unlike the two rosters younger than the Bucks - the 76ers and Jazz - Milwaukee will gain valuable postseason experience as the No. 6 seed.

Leading the youth movement is 20-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo. All arms and legs, the Greek Freak has only begun to tap into his potential. When paired with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Jabari Parker, the Bucks have an enviable foundation to build upon. Unfortunately, Parker's rookie campaign was cut short by an ACL tear. In 25 games, he averaged 12.3 points on 49.0 percent shooting.

Milwaukee acquired another young talent in a midseason trade for Michael Carter-Williams. Last season's Rookie of the Year came on strong in April, with averages of 16.9 points, 6.0 assists and 5.3 rebounds for the month. Under the tutelage of Bucks coach Jason Kidd, MCW could develop into a multidimensional point guard in Kidd's mold.

The Bucks will have their hands full against the battle-tested Bulls - the NBA's sixth-oldest team - but win or lose, the experience will pay off down the road.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Bulls 73.8% - Bucks 26.2%

Average Score: Bulls 96.7 - Bucks 92.8

Series MVP: Pau Gasol - 17.1 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2.8 APG

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Cleveland Cavaliers logo
Boston Celtics logo
2
7
Cavaliers
Celtics
4
2
Cavaliers
Record: 53-29
Analysis: The trio of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love was envisioned to provide immediate dividends. Not the case, as the new-look Cavaliers were still gelling in January. A six-game slide after the New Year dropped the Cavs to 19-20, but the team began clicking with a string of 12 straight victories. Since its low water mark, Cleveland's record is 34-9. Midseason acquisitions were vital to the Cavs' turnaround, as J.R. Smith and Timofey Mozgov have become everyday starters, while Iman Shumpert plays significant minutes off the bench.

It's tough to criticize James' line of 25.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game, but the scoring output is the lowest since his rookie season and his efficiency is down. James' field goal percentage (48.8 percent) is his worst since 2007-08 and his free throw percentage (71.0 percent) is his lowest since 2006-07. Still, he appears capable of turning it up a notch, which could spell trouble for playoff opponents.

Irving has exceled alongside James, with per-game averages of 21.7 points and 5.2 assists. The season has been less kind to Love though, who's scoring has dipped from 26.1 points per game in 2013-14 to 16.4 this season. A deep playoff run may be vital in motivating Love to resign in the offseason.

Celtics
Record: 40-42
Analysis: Brad Stevens is a basketball genius.

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from the Celtics' presence in the 2015 playoffs. Stevens was given a roster with little hope of a playoff berth, and then saw its two best players shipped in midseason trades. First, Rajon Rondo, the team leader in assists and steals, was sent to Dallas in December. Then, a January trade sent scoring leader Jeff Green to Memphis. In both cases, the transactions returned spare parts and draft picks. And yet, the Celtics improved significantly in the latter half of the season. Before bidding farewell to Green, Boston was 12-23. Since the move, the team has rallied to 28-19. The success included a season-ending six-game winning streak that vaulted the Celtics from the playoff bubble to the No. 7-seed.

The Celtics' reward for their anti-tanking strategy? A first-round date with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. It's tough to imagine a scenario in which Boston pulls the upset, but the team found a coach that gets the most out of his players - and then some. Coupled with a treasure chest of future draft picks, the Celtics are well-positioned for the future.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Cavaliers 89.8% - Celtics 10.2%

Average Score: Cavaliers 107.5 - Celtics 100.3

Series MVP: LeBron James - 24.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 7.9 APG

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Golden State Warriors logo
New Orleans Pelicans logo
1
8
Warriors
Pelicans
4
2
Warriors
Record: 67-15
Analysis: Regardless of what happens going forward, this was one of the greatest regular season teams we'll ever see. The Warriors finished second in offensive efficiency, and despite rarely being credited for it, had the league's best defense as well.

Keep in mind that only seven teams in NBA history have finished the season with a double-digit point differential, like the Warriors did this season (+10.1). Six of those teams ended up winning championships.

It's hard to find statistical categories that the Warriors aren't first in. They play at the league's fastest pace, shoot the highest field goal percentage, three-point percentage, have the most assists and have the top field goal percentage defense thanks to the presence of Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green's versatility.

Of course, we know who drives this team. With Stephen Curry hitting yet another level, the Warriors haven't taken their foot off the gas all season and are primed for a title run. Defenses will likely opt to trap Curry, stay home on Klay Thompson and make the frontcourt players beat them, but even that is much easier said than done. This team is a juggernaut.

Pelicans
Record: 45-37
Analysis: Finally, Anthony Davis will get the national spotlight. The Pelicans had to fight until the very end of the regular season to secure a playoff spot, but this is a team getting healthy at the right time. With Jrue Holiday back in action to man the point and supreme floor-spacer Ryan Anderson in the rotation, the Pelicans can trot out the kind of top six that you typically wouldn't see from a No. 8-seed.

While there's plenty of offensive talent to go around, and while Davis is undoubtedly one of the best players in basketball, the Pelicans don't defend particularly well as a team. New Orleans finished the regular season 22nd in defensive efficiency, which can partially be attributed to a lack of continuity due to the constant injuries.

Can the Pelicans step it up in the playoffs? Any team with Davis should be dangerous enough to at least steal a game, but that might be the ceiling. Davis is a force, but young teams that lack continuity and playoff experience rarely make much noise in the postseason.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Warriors 89.7% - Pelicans 10.3%

Average Score: Warriors 104.1 - Pelicans 96.7

Series MVP: Steph Curry - 20.4 PPG, 7.3 APG, 4.4 RPG

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Portland Trail Blazers logo
Memphis Grizzlies logo
4
5
Trail Blazers
Grizzlies
4
3
Trail Blazers
Record: 51-31
Analysis: The Blazers are basically a MASH unit right now, as only Damian Lillard and Robin Lopez are healthy entering the postseason. Losing Wes Matthews for the season with an Achilles injury was a massive blow, as the Blazers desperately needed his perimeter defense, particularly with Nicolas Batum banged up.

Even though the Blazers are hurt, they are still dangerous, especially at home (32-9). Lillard can catch fire and close out games with the best of them, and LaMarcus Aldridge showed in last year's postseason how much of a matchup nightmare he can be for opposing big men.

The Blazers also finished in the top-10 of both offensive and defensive efficiency this season, so this is a balanced team without any real glaring weaknesses when healthy. The Blazers have played well even with a lack of depth in the past, but this may be pushing it to the extreme. Lillard and Aldridge will have to be near-perfect.

Grizzlies
Record: 55-27
Analysis: It took a few years and a few sacrifices here and there, but Memphis has finally added enough offense to be taken seriously as a title team. Finishing 13th in offensive efficiency isn't going to “wow” anyone, but the Grizzlies are more than capable of grinding teams down with half court execution and suffocating defense in the postseason. There's a reason they've had unexpected success in past years.

This might be the best we've ever seen the Grizzlies. Jeff Green is a substantial upgrade over Tayshaun Prince, and Courtney Lee is a 40 percent three-point shooter who can help space the floor. Ultimately, the Grizzlies will live and die with the post scoring of Zach Randolph. When he's rolling, the Grizzlies are tough to beat. If he struggles, though, the offense can sometimes lose direction, particularly if Memphis goes away from Marc Gasol.

Memphis will never be the sexy pick, but they have the wing defenders necessary to slow down high-scoring backcourts and an established style that can give less physical teams trouble.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Trail Blazers 50.6% - Grizzlies 49.4%

Average Score: Trail Blazers 99.6 - Grizzlies 99.2

Series MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge - 21.5 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 1.8 APG

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Los Angeles Clippers logo
San Antonio Spurs logo
3
6
Clippers
Spurs
4
3
Clippers
Record: 56-26
Analysis: The Clippers haven't changed all that much from last year. This is a dangerous team, yet it is also a flawed team. The Clippers sport the league's best offensive efficiency behind Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but defensively this is a below-average team (16th efficiency). Typically, teams on that side of the defensive efficiency line have a difficult time reaching the finals.

Fortunately for the Clippers, they have a clean bill of health and should be able to ride an incredibly productive starting unit a little more in the postseason. The Clippers have the worst bench of any playoff contender after experiments with Spencer Hawes and Austin Rivers have failed, and they still rely far too much on Matt Barnes as the lone wing defender.

The saving grace for the Clippers is that the Paul-Griffin pick-and-roll has proven to be virtually unguardable this year. Although it may seem like the Clippers are a longshot to win it all, they did have the second-best point differential (+6.6) in the league, behind Golden State. If Paul and Griffin can stay healthy and if DeAndre Jordan can stay out of foul trouble, the Clippers could make a deep run and help Paul finally slay some demons by reaching a Western Conference Finals for the first time in his career.

Spurs
Record: 55-27
Analysis: After starting the season with a 24-16 record with plenty of close losses to boot, everyone began to wonder if time had finally run out on the veteran core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

As per usual, though, those concerns were premature. The defending champs have been on an absolute tear as of late, going 21-8 since the All-Star break. The Spurs will enter the postseason with the league's second-best defense, led largely by one of the game's best individual defenders in Kawhi Leonard.

Once again, head coach Gregg Popovich has done a masterful job managing minutes, as only Leonard averaged over 30 minutes per game during the regular season. With Parker starting to look more like himself after dealing with a hamstring injury earlier in the year, and with Duncan sustaining his usual level of brilliance on both ends, the Spurs are the team no one in the Western Conference wants to run up against in a seven-game series.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Clippers 63.5% - Spurs 36.5%

Average Score: Clippers 104.2 - Spurs 102.1

Series MVP: Chris Paul - 18.4 PPG, 10.6 APG, 5.0 RPG

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Houston Rockets logo
Dallas Mavericks logo
2
7
Rockets
Mavericks
4
2
Rockets
Record: 56-26
Analysis: The Rockets are survivors. Dwight Howard missed half the season. Starting point guard Patrick Beverley missed time and is now out for the year. Starting power forward Donatas Motiejunas is out for the year as well.

Somehow, though, James Harden has kept the Rockets thriving while leading the league in scoring with 2,217 points. Harden is the best isolation player going and a master at drawing fouls – two necessary skills given his uninspiring supporting cast offensively.

Although they're viewed simply as a run-and-gun team, the Rockets rode their defense early on in the year. Houston has slipped on that end as of late, but still finished 10th in defensive efficiency with Trevor Ariza serving as the team's rock on that end.

Still, though, it's hard to imagine the Rockets have enough firepower to regularly score on some of the league's better defenses in the postseason. The shots come from the right spots (first in three-point attempts this season), but this is still an average shooting team (20th in field goal percentage, 14th in three-point percentage). If Harden is contained, and if Howard doesn't revert back to how he played in last year's postseason, it's hard to imagine the Rockets winning four games against a healthy, legitimate contender.

Mavericks
Record: 50-32
Analysis: It looked like the Mavericks had acquired the missing piece when they traded for Rajon Rondo earlier this season, but it hasn't worked out that way. Dallas has gone just 20-19 since the deal and has taken steps back on both ends of the court.

Of course, that doesn't mean the Mavs are doomed in the postseason. In the past, Rondo has been an incredible playoff performer, and Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in basketball when it comes to game-to-game adjustments.

Ultimately, the Mavericks will need to help out Tyson Chandler and plug some of the gaps defensively. Dallas was 20th in defensive efficiency this season, which should have some of the league's better offenses salivating. To go deep in the postseason, Dallas will likely have to hope Monta Ellis returns to form and that Dirk Nowitzki flips the switch and becomes unstoppable once again. There's potential here, but an awful lot needs to go right.

Winning Percentage of 1,001 Simulations: Rockets 82.8% - Mavericks 17.2%

Average Score: Rockets 103.6 - Mavericks 98.1

Series MVP: James Harden - 23.9 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 6.7 APG

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