The NBA Playoffs — More Predictable Than They’d Like You To Believe

by A.J. Coltrane

According to John Hollinger (ESPN insider only), there are some fairly hard and fast “rules” governing the NBA Playoffs:

Teams that don’t have home-court in the first round, and lost the season series to their opponent, almost always lose.

Up until last season, teams in this situation had lost 41 straight times. Ouch. Last year, there were two exceptions, but even those got giant asterisks — San Antonio beat Dallas, but the Mavs only won the season series because they played against the Spurs’ backups on the last day of the season. And Utah beat Denver, but only after the Nuggets lost half their team and their head coach.

So it’s now up to 46-2 in the past 48 meetings; there were four occasions it happened in the 1990s, but you’re still looking at about a 95 percent fail rate. I’ll go ahead and bet against that unless presented with a darned good reason not to…

The five teams on the short end of that stick this year are Denver, Indiana, Philadelphia, New York, and New Orleans. Of course, that’s before David Stern gets involved.

Then there’s this one:

Since the league went to a 16-team payoff format in 1983-84, only 13 teams have won consecutive series without home-court advantage.

 …This gives us a pool of roughly 300 teams, give or take. Out of that pool, 13 pulled it off. So the odds of pulling this off are roughly 1-in-20; it only happens about once every two years, and it happened each of the past two…

Hollinger goes on to predict a Lakers vs Heat Finals. I think it will be the Lakers against either the Bulls or Heat.

As far as the “David Stern gets involved” — see the Sonics-Suns Western Conference Finals, 1993, Game 7 — the Suns shot 64(!) free throws to the Sonics 36 en route to winning the game 123-110. That result gave the NBA their Barkeley-Jordan Finals matchup. There’s a chart showing the FT/FGA for the series. For reference, the league average in 1993 was .234 (23.4 Free Throws attempted for every 100 Field Goal attempts.) Check out the “spike” in free throw rate favoring the Suns in Game 7:

FT/FGA -- Free throw rate per Field Goal attempted.

1 comment to The NBA Playoffs — More Predictable Than They’d Like You To Believe

  • Annie S.

    It’s who does the NBA want to be there anyway. Coltrane you should do one ab out the Heat beating the Mav’s. There is no way the NBA wants Cuban’s team to win.

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