Don’t let anyone tell you differently – the Brooklyn Nets made a calculated decision on the last day of the regular season. They decided to intentionally tank the last game of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers so they could get the sixth seed in the East.
The following names are actual NBA players, and they actually started for the Nets during that last game. And they actually all played at least 33 minutes: Jorge Gutierrez, Marquis Teague, Jason Collins, Andray Blatche, and Marcus Thornton.
Why did they do it? Well, the answer is two-fold.
First, they thought more highly of the Chicago Bulls than the Toronto Raptors. They anticipated that a potential 4/5 seed matchup with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls squad would be a blood bath, and would easily go seven grueling games. They thought it would be easier to steal a game in Toronto and end the series quickly.
Second, they weren't afraid of the Miami Heat at all. They boasted a 4-0 record against them during the regular season, and veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have played LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the playoffs for years and years. They felt that the Heat were vulnerable and that they matched up better against the small-ball Heat than the bruising number-one seed Indiana Pacers.
So far, it’s looking like that was a pretty foolish understanding of the Eastern Conference. They essentially traded places the last day of the season with the Washington Wizards, putting them on opposite sides of the bracket.
Here are our updated playoff odds for those two teams.
|Odds to Win First Round||Odds to Win Second Round||Odds to Win ECF||Odds to Win Finals
That is a huge difference. Coming into the playoffs, most people would have said that Brooklyn was better than Washington, despite ending up with the same regular season record and one seed lower in the playoffs.
And maybe they still are better. In the playoffs, however, it doesn't always matter. You've heard it before and this is a very apparent example - matchups are everything. Brooklyn gambled on Toronto and Miami being an easier matchup than Chicago and Indiana.
Right now, that gamble doesn't look like it will pay off. If they had held their place in the Eastern Conference by playing their starters and beating the Cavs, they seemingly would have had a much easier playoff path. Whether they undervalued Toronto or overvalued Chicago, the Nets messed up. The Bulls looked overmatched against the Wizards and the Pacers look even worse. Right now we have the Atlanta Hawks with a 64.8% chance of beating the Pacers this round.
The Wizards are 3-0 against the Hawks, and their one loss came back in December in Atlanta. In that game, Al Horford dropped 34 points, including hitting the game-winning shot in overtime to win it by two. But alas, Horford is injured and the Hawks would be very undermatched in a seven game series if that matchup happens.
Looking past that series, the Wizards are a respectable 2-2 on the year against the Miami Heat. They actually match up pretty well against them and would definitely make the Heat earn it. Would I predict an upset? No. If I was in Vegas, would I take the 8-1 odds of the Wiz making the Finals? Maybe.
Things are setting up quite nicely for the Wizards according the numbers, and they have the Brooklyn Nets and their tanking efforts to thank for it.