Staff Predictions for the 2017 NBA Playoffs
Here at numberFire, we're all about the advanced analytics. We love algorithms, statistics, and numbers. After all, that's what we're always writing about.
But we are human -- we have opinions, hot takes, and outside-the-box thoughts. And those are what essentially make up predictions.
So, this one time, we're setting the science of numbers aside in favor of a more primitive thought process as our staff of NBA writers attempt to foresee the playoff future.
As a team, here's how we think things will play out.
Lowest Seed to Advance Past Round 1
If one lower-seeded team was guaranteed to make it through their first round matchup, the Utah Jazz would be the team we'd like most to do that. Dale Redman went in further detail to say that it would take seven games but that the 5-seeded Jazz would pull the minor upset over the 4-seeded Los Angeles Clippers.
That would run contradictory to our algorithms -- which favor the Clippers to win the series 56.02% of the time -- but the matchup is so close to a tossup that the rationale for picking the Jazz is more than understandable.
The same can't be said for the 6-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder and 8-seeded Chicago Bulls. As the only two teams not named the Jazz to receive a vote in this category, they have odds of just 33.17% and 34.75%, respectively, to make it past their first round opponents.
Nonetheless, Russell Peddle thinks Russell Westbrook will carry the Thunder to victory while yours truly believes that Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade will prove too much for the 1-seeded Boston Celtics.
Eastern Conference Playoffs
On the 1-seeded Celtics' side of the Eastern Conference bracket, we, as a whole, favor a less likely team to emerge in the Washington Wizards. For us, either way, it comes down to the Wizards and Celtics in the second round. But of our six writers, four went with the Wizards to reach the Conference Finals.
The numbers, however, don't quite agree with our unconventional stance. By our algorithms, the Celtics' likelihood (38.80%) of reaching the Eastern Conference Finals is more than 10 points superior to that of the Wizards' (26.15%). At that, the Wizards are at just 59.6% to survive the first round.
On the Cleveland Cavaliers' side of the bracket, there's a perfect split between the Cavs and the Toronto Raptors. While some of us like LeBron James and company to flip the switch, others trust the Raptors' success over the long haul of the season. A few point to the big impact Serge Ibaka could have on both ends of the floor as a stretch-five offensively and a rim protector defensively.
And there's no difference here between man and algorithm on this point. The 2 seed and 3 seed are at 37.1% and 43.05% to reach the conference finals. Their two first round opponents -- the 7-seeded Indiana Pacers and 8-seeded Milwaukee Bucks -- come in at a combined 21.6% odds to make it beyond the second round in the East.
Western Conference Playoffs
On one side in the West, there are no splits, no ties, no debates. It's all Warriors. All six of us have the Dubs running through their first two opponents en route to a third straight Western Conference Finals appearance.
We're certainly justified to think so. Our algorithms give Golden State the highest odds (66.9%) of any team to reach the conference finals, and they are the only team above 65%.
Opposite the Warriors, the region of the 2 and 3 seeds is a little less concrete. While four went chalk with the 2-seeded San Antonio Spurs, the other two picked the winner of the Rockets-Thunder first round meeting.
Geoff Hutchinson went with MVP candidate James Harden and the pace-and-space attack of the three-point heavy Rockets. Alex McDonald took the side of Westbrook and a determined Thunder team. A postseason clash between Westbrook and Kevin Durant? Yes, please.
Sadly we're not likely to see Harden or Westbrook attempt to take down the Warriors. At 60.45%, the Spurs' chances of making the conference finals are far better than the other teams' combined 32.55% odds. So even the computers are in general agreement that it will be Warriors-Spurs in the West when it's all said and done.
Next to which team wins a ring, the most important question is which team will win that pivotal third series to first secure a spot in the Finals?
Surprise, surprise! The team is evenly split on the Eastern Conference representative. Three writers reside in the Raptors revolution camp, but the other three remain loyal to LeBron's quest to bring another championship to The Land.
Our numbers take the side of the North. They produce a 28.25% likelihood for the Raptors to play in the Finals. In comparison, the Cavaliers' likelihood to do the same is 21.55%.
As for the West, a big breakdown isn't necessary. We're all on the Warriors train once again. Along with our numbers, it just isn't that likely that the Spurs, Rockets, or any other team knock off the Warriors in their pursuit of the Finals. At 48.25%, Stephen Curry and the boys possess odds 11.4% greater than the combined efforts of the Spurs, Rockets, and Thunder (our three picks to meet the Warriors).
Keeping with the numbers, how can we argue with Golden State's 38.9% probability of winning their second championship in three years?
In short, we can't. Even in what we would expect to be another hard-fought series between them and either the Cavs or Raptors, every single one of us have the Warriors penciled in as champions. Their talent level is just too much for any team to deal with.
That being said, even without asking I think I can say that we all approve of a tightly-contested NBA Finals and postseason. It's going to be a fun one, for sure.
After all, Michael Jordan said it himself -- the ceiling is the roof.