Running around to Give you the Reacharound


Predictibility Killed the Basketball Star

Other than anything involving college football, the NBA playoffs are my favorite sporting event of the year. Watching high quality basketball players perform at the highest level is, no homo, breathtaking to observe. Following two elite teams battle through a seven game series over a couple of weeks helps a basketball fan differentiate between a transcendant star (Jordan, TimmyD, LeBron) and a very good baller (KG, Malone, Dirk).

However, unlike most other playoff formats in sports, the NBA playoffs contain an element of overwhelming predictability that seems almost preordained. League parity and seeding oddities have rendered the NFL playoffs a shotgun wedding-style tournament to the point that during one weekend this past January, all four road teams were favored. The inherent nature of baseball has shown that anything can happen in small sample sizes, and the bevy of recent wild card World Series winners proves that. March Madness is called as such for a reason.

You rarely see these types of upset-laden brackets when it comes to the NBA playoffs, and I never really thought about that until recently. Even though the Hawks are a #4 seed, I have no expectations for them to advance beyond round two of the playoffs. Why? Well, because they're the Hawks. But would a Heat appearance in the Eastern Conference finals shock me or the rest of the NBA-loving universe? Probably not...but by looking at the numbers maybe it should.

I took a look at every conference finals matchup and NBA finals matchup since the 1991-1992 season and where each of the team's records ranked within their respective conferences. The results will shock and awe you. Unless you're a fan of the Celts, Cavs, Magic, or Lakers, then they'll just make you slappy happy.

**Note: We are ignoring seeding in this exercise and looking solely at ranking based on in-conference record.**

  • The teams with the #1 and #2 best records in the conference appeared in 20 of the 34 conference finals since 1992; meaning 59% of the time, the best two teams in the conference held serve until the finals.
  • Teams with the #1, #2, OR #3 best records comprised 63 out of the 68 teams in the conference finals. 96% of all conference finalists since 1992 have entered the playoffs as one of the top three teams in their conference. There have only been five conference finalists outside the Top 3: '94 Pacers (#5), '94 Jazz (#5), '95 Rockets (#6), '99 Knicks (#8) and '07 Jazz (#5).
  • Since the lockout-shortened 1999 season, those 06-07 Jazz are the only non-Top 3 team to appear in a western conference finals.
  • Looking at the NBA finals during this time, teams with the best record in each conference met in 6 of 17 finals (35%).
  • Teams ranked #1 or #2 in their conference in met in the finals 13 out of 17 times (76%).
  • And finally, pushing along the Top 3 trend, teams ranked #1, #2 or #3 in their conference met 15 out of 17 times in the finals (88%) and comprised 32 out of the most recent 34 NBA finals participants.
  • What two teams outside their conference Top 3 made the finals during this time? Glad you asked, and there were definite considerations that make these cases unique. The '95 Rockets (#6) were the defending champions in the no-MJ era, and the '99 Knicks were a #8 seed in the lockout-shortened year. That veteran team absolutely benefitted by not having to run 30 additional regular season games.
On the other hand...
  • Until last year (Lakers, Celtics, both #1s), two teams with best records in the conference hadn't made the NBA finals since 2000 (Lakers-Pacers)
  • Until last year, a team with the best conference record hadn't even made the NBA finals since the 2002-2003 Spurs.
So what's the point of all this? Well, the NBA playoffs are predictable exercise, and I'd go as far as to say the NBA season as a whole is fairly predictable. Sure there's "what the hell" moments and seasons (the Suns/Sonics smallball revivals in 04-05 come to mind, as does that random year when a previously unknown ballhog named Flip Murray started averaging 20ppg out of the gate), but for the most part, you know what teams and players are going to be good. (Unrelated note: this is probably why I cant sustain any interest whatsoever in fantasy basketball)

There's a reason we have only seen 7 different franchises win NBA titles in the last 25 years (Celtics, Lakers, Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, Spurs, Heat). The king stays the king in the NBA, day-to-day, November-to-June, year-after-year. And I'm still pumped as hell to watch as much playoff action as I can, even if I know what's likely going to happen.

************IMPROMPTU BAWLIN' CAWLIN'*************************

As OBJ is busy doing what he can to sustain the natural selection experiment that is his workplace, I got the Cawlin' duties this evening. Don't worry, OBJ was still able to cherrypick his line first.

OBJ: Denver/Lakers OVER (209.5)

Friday: Philly (+6.5) over Chicago

We both holdin' it down at 14-7.

No comments: