Should the Chicago Bulls Tank for the East's 6 Seed?

Avoiding Miami may be a good idea, but avoiding Indiana should be a priority as well. Which wins out?

A fun surprise awaits the winner of the Bulls and Hawks battle for the East's 5 seed: a potential second-round date with the Miami Heat. Sure, the Bulls were the ones to stop their winning streak and the Hawks have played them close, but let's get real: nobody wants to take on LeBron and Co.

I've seen the idea around the Internets that either the Hawks or Bulls should tank for the six seed. There are a number of reasons I've seen from this, from the Hawks matching up well against the Knicks to wanting to wait for Derrick Rose.

Originally, from a stats perspective, I was of the mind that the longer you could avoid facing the Heat, the better. Each round that occurs before you're scheduled to face Miami, the less of a chance that they're actually going to be there. This makes statistical sense.

However, the actual numberFire projections tell a different story. They point out that if you even want the chance to face Miami, then you'll need to win your first round matchup first. And out of the potential opponents, playing four seed Brooklyn provides a much better chance of getting out of the first round than playing probable three seed Indiana.

The First Round Difference

Maybe looking at our power rankings and seeing Indiana at No. 6 and Brooklyn at No. 11 will give you a clue, but the Pacers are miles ahead of their Brooklyn counterparts.

If defensive prowess is your favorite dish, then Roy Hibbert and Co. will leave you salivating. At a 99.3 defensive rating, the Pacers have allowed over one point per 100 possessions less than any other team in the NBA. Opponents have shot a .450 effective field goal percentage (eFG%) against them this season, easily the lowest figure in the league. And with their rebounding ability (fourth in ORB%, sixth in DRB%), every playoff contest will be a grind-it-out game against Indiana.

The Nets may sit at No. 8 in the NBA on the offensive end, a good deal greater than Indiana's No. 20 ranking, but their No. 16 defense leaves them as the clearly inferior squad. Per 100 possessions this season, the Nets have scored only 1.9 more points than they have allowed. For Indiana, that net total sits at 5.0 points per 100 possessions, the sixth-largest difference in the league.

Naturally, Indiana will be tougher to play than Brooklyn in the first round. But how much tougher? Our Chief Analyst Keith Goldner says that playing the Pacers would result in about 19 percent lower win odds in the first round, no matter whether the opponent is Atlanta or Chicago.

SeedCHI Round 2 OddsATL Round 2 Odds
5 (vs. BRK)50.4%50.1%
6 (vs. IND)31.1%31.0%

For both the Hawks and Bulls, a potential matchup against the Nets would be a toss-up, perhaps even slightly in the road team's favor. Against the Pacers, though, the six seed is praying for some Hoosiers mojo to make it to the next round.

The Second Round Balance

Ah, but Zach, the smart reader would say, wouldn't the easier second-round opponent balance it out?

That is the main argument for tanking, after all. Taking a look at the Miami's 78.1 nERD rating as compared to New York's 65.0 rating doesn't exactly hurt the argument, either. There is no denying that Miami is the tougher second-round opponent.

However, because of the lower first round win odds, the five seed still holds an advantage here. When the win odds are combined from the East's first and second rounds, the Indiana/probably-New York route rates out tougher than the Brooklyn/probably-Miami route for both potential five seeds. It's a much smaller margin, but the margin is still there.

SeedCHI Conf. Champ OddsATL Conf. Champ Odds

You may notice that the Bulls held better odds across the board in round one, while the Hawks hold better odds after round two. That may look strange, because the Bulls are clearly the better team by efficiency metrics. But because of the inconsistency within Atlanta's game-to-game efficiency (you never know what you're going to get), the Hawks have a stronger chance to pull the large upset (Heat, Knicks) but also have a better chance to be upset against a lower team. Their peaks are higher and valleys are lower.

Just for fun, well, my idea of fun anyway, the same pattern holds for each team's Conference Championship odds as well, even if the odds are close because they are so small in each case. Five seed is where you want to be, folks.

SeedCHI NBA Finals OddsATL NBA Finals Odds

Who Will Get It?

Chicago's win over New York last night went a long way, for sure. Taking advantage of Tyson Chandler's absence, the Bulls took down the Knicks in OT. If they had lost, the Hawks would have been the favorites for the five seed with 54.7 percent odds. But as it stands now, the Bulls hold 72.2 percent odds to be the five seed.

You better start rooting hard, Hawks fans: you don't want to be left behind at the six seed. As our odds show, it's not the place you want to be.