NBA Playoff Odds Update: The Eastern Conference Picture Grows Complicated, While the West Takes Form
With only three weeks left in the NBA regular season, the playoff races in the Eastern and Western Conferences are reaching a fever pitch. Since we here at numberFire are in the business of algorithms and projections, it's only natural that we've got a close eye on how each team in the hunt's playoff chances are playing out. From now until the end of the regular season, we'll drop in occasionally to give you an update regarding how our metrics see things finishing this season and to discuss why. If you can't wait for the next column regarding the race, you can always see each team's playoff chances updated daily on our NBA Team Power Rankings page.
The Western Conference 8 Seed
The race for the West's 8 seed has been one of the most interesting stories in the league this season, and was getting very interesting as recently as a week ago. Since then, however, the Oklahoma City Thunder have started running away with it, and are doing so without the services of Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison.
Russell Westbrook, we're not worthy.
|8||Oklahoma City Thunder||41-30||-||86.4%|
|10||New Orleans Pelicans||37-33||3.5||7.4%|
At 86.4%, the Thunder's playoff chances eclipse those of the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans by a fairly wide margin, despite the mere 3.0 and 3.5 games respectively that separate those teams from OKC in the standings. The Thunder and Pelicans were neck and neck a couple weeks ago, but then OKC went and won six of seven, while New Orleans has dropped four of five. The Suns are coming on strong as winners of five of their last six, but they had already fallen a little behind in the standings after a very rough month of February (3-8).
In terms of tiebreakers, The Pelicans have already won the season series against the Thunder, while every other combination between the three teams has a remaining game to decide them. An eventual tie between OKC and New Orleans could flip the script on the Thunder's increasingly likely playoff berth due to the Pelicans' 3-1 edge in the head-to-head matchup, but the two teams seem to be traveling in distinctly different directions as of late. Meanwhile, it might be too little too late for the Suns, as their remaining opponents have a combined winning percentage of 61%, according to PlayoffStatus.com -- the hardest remaining schedule in the whole NBA.
The Eastern Conference 7 and 8 Seeds
The Eastern Conference may fall short by comparison to the West in terms of overall talent, competition, and number of realistic title contenders, but the race for the final playoff spot(s) out East has gotten far more interesting recently.
There are currently five teams with a legitimate chance to grab one of the two remaining playoff spots in the Eastern Conference:
|Team||Record||GB||Proj W-L||Playoff %|
|7||Miami Heat||32-38||-||37.7 - 44.4||67.5%|
|8||Boston Celtics||31-39||-||36.6 - 45.4||42.8%|
|9||Charlotte Hornets||30-39||0.5||36.3 - 45.7||43.3%|
|10||Indiana Pacers||30-40||1.0||35.9 - 46.1||34.3%|
|11||Brooklyn Nets||29-40||1.5||35.0 - 47.0||13.1%|
The Miami Heat have the best playoff chances at 67.5%, but the mere 2.5 games that separate the seventh-place Heat and the 11th-place Nets puts all of these teams unmistakably in the mix; especially when you consider how much all these teams play each other over the next couple weeks:
|Miami @ Boston||March 25th, 2015|
|Brooklyn @ Charlotte||March 25th, 2015|
|Boston @ Charlotte||March 30th, 2015|
|Indiana @ Brooklyn||March 31st, 2015|
|Indiana @ Boston||April 1st, 2015|
|Charlotte @ Indiana||April 3rd, 2015|
|Miami @ Indiana||April 5th, 2015|
|Charlotte @ Miami||April 7th, 2015|
All of the games listed above have the potential to have a major impact on the final playoff picture. Each one represents a final and deciding game in this season's head-to-head series between the two teams. If either of the two teams finish with the same regular season record (and we're projecting them all in the 35 to 38 range, so it's very possible that they do), then the season series will be the deciding factor. Here is how those series look as of right now:
|Miami||MIA 2-1||CHA 2-1||IND 2-1||MIA 4-0|
|Boston||MIA 2-1||CHA 2-1||BOS 2-1||BOS 3-1|
|Charlotte||CHA 2-1||CHA 2-1||IND 2-1||Tie 1-1|
|Indiana||IND 2-1||BOS 2-1||IND 2-1||Tie 1-1|
|Brooklyn||MIA 4-0||BOS 3-1||Tie 1-1||Tie 1-1|
Miami and Boston have already won their respective series with Brooklyn, but each of the eight remaining combinations will be decided during those eight games listed above. If regular season and head-to-head records don't decide it, the next tiebreaker will be in-division records. That doesn't apply to every team in the race, but if it comes down to it, Boston (9-4) currently holds the edge over Brooklyn (8-6) in the Atlantic, while Charlotte (7-5) tops Miami (4-9) in the Southeast.
If the in-division record doesn't break the tie (or doesn't apply, as would be the case with teams from different divisions), we'd have to look at the teams' records within their own conference to decide. There are a lot of games remaining to cause these standings to shift a lot in the remaining weeks, but here's how they currently stand:
|Record vs. East||Win %||East Games Remaining|
To put it simply, there's a lot of important basketball left to happen before the playoffs start and before we know who's in them.
The race picks up even more steam tonight, as all eight of the teams in both playoff races play this evening, including the two aforementioned season-series-deciding matchups. If you want to follow along with the madness, here are tonight's key games:
|Brooklyn @ Charlotte||7:00pm EST|
|Indiana @ Washington||7:00pm EST|
|Miami @ Boston||7:30pm EST|
|Houston @ New Orleans||8:00pm EST|
|Oklahoma City @ San Antonio||9:30pm EST|
|Sacramento @ Phoenix||10:00pm EST|
It's about to get a whole lot messier, so fire up League Pass, enjoy the ride, and check back in the coming weeks for further playoff odds updates.