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April 5, 2012
The Playoff Picture
April 5

by Kevin Pelton

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I'm pleased to introduce, for the first time, playoff odds from Basketball Prospectus. These are generated by simulating the remainder of the season 1,000 times using a program written by Bradford Doolittle. To rate teams, we've used schedule-adjusted performance since March 1 onward.

What makes these ratings unique is that they project seeding, using the actual rules about division champions, as well as home-court advantage. However, they do not at this point factor in actual tie-breakers. Ties are broken at random.

Teams are listed by average wins.

Team           AvgW    Play    Div     HCA       1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Chicago        49.6   100.0   100.0   100.0    79.8    20.2     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Miami          47.7   100.0   100.0   100.0    20.2    79.8     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Indiana        40.6   100.0     0.0    89.1     0.0     0.0    68.0     2.5    21.5     7.5     0.4     0.1
Atlanta        38.8    99.7     0.0    55.3     0.0     0.0    16.5     0.6    45.0    29.5     6.4     1.7
Orlando        38.2    99.5     0.0    36.4     0.0     0.0    11.9     0.4    30.0    44.2    10.2     2.8
Boston         36.8    93.9    53.3    12.6     0.0     0.0     2.6    50.7     0.9     4.9    20.6    14.2
Philadelphia   36.0    89.4    32.2     5.5     0.0     0.0     1.0    31.2     1.9     7.3    27.2    20.8
New York       34.9    71.0    14.5     0.8     0.0     0.0     0.0    14.5     0.5     4.3    19.7    32.0
Milwaukee      34.0    46.5     0.0     0.3     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.1     0.2     2.3    15.5    28.4
Detroit        25.8     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Toronto        24.6     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
New Jersey     22.2     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Cleveland      20.1     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Washington     17.3     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Charlotte       9.7     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0

Team           AvgW    Play    Div     HCA       1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
San Antonio    49.1   100.0   100.0   100.0    73.7    26.3     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Oklahoma City  47.7   100.0   100.0   100.0    26.3    73.7     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
L.A. Lakers    40.1   100.0    82.0    91.8     0.0     0.0    71.5    21.1     5.3     1.5     0.6     0.0
L.A. Clippers  38.1    98.8    17.6    48.4     0.0     0.0    14.1    34.5    28.9    11.0     7.1     3.2
Memphis        37.8    96.9     0.0    41.2     0.0     0.0    12.0    29.0    30.9    14.1     7.3     3.6
Dallas         36.0    85.4     0.0     8.6     0.0     0.0     1.6     6.5    14.4    26.4    19.7    16.8
Houston        35.1    68.1     0.0     4.3     0.0     0.0     0.3     3.9     7.6    17.1    19.7    19.5
Phoenix        34.6    57.4     0.4     2.5     0.0     0.0     0.2     2.3     5.7    12.0    17.3    19.9
Denver         34.6    54.6     0.0     2.2     0.0     0.0     0.2     1.8     5.3    11.2    17.1    19.0
Utah           34.0    38.7     0.0     1.0     0.0     0.0     0.1     0.9     1.9     6.7    11.2    17.9
Portland       29.2     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Minnesota      29.1     0.1     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.1
Golden State   26.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
Sacramento     23.7     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0
New Orleans    18.5     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0     0.0

For this debut of the playoff picture, some notes for Basketball Prospectus Premium subscribers:

Eastern Conference

Wednesday's win over Oklahoma City kept the Miami Heat alive for the top seed, though the Chicago Bulls are still the heavy favorites to earn the No. 1 position in the East. Three consecutive wins have moved the Indiana Pacers into third, and a favorable schedule means the Pacers are likely to stay there.

The Atlantic Division remains very much up for grabs. The Boston Celtics have the most difficult schedule, but their 1.5-game lead and slightly superior recent play make them most likely to win the conference. The New York Knicks still have an outside shot at winning the Atlantic. The winner is guaranteed a top-four seed, but not necessarily home-court advantage. In fact, whoever wins the Atlantic hosts the opening round just 18.9 percent of the time. That makes the battle for the fifth seed, most likely between the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic, one to watch.

Odds are the seventh seed will go to the second-place finisher in the Atlantic, although the Milwaukee Bucks occasionally sneak into that spot. The Bucks reach the postseason about half the time in these simulations, usually victimizing the Knicks but occasionally taking advantage of a collapse by Boston or Philadelphia.

Western Conference

Lost in the talk of how dominant the Oklahoma City Thunder was in beating Miami, the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago on national TV was that the Thunder wasn't opening up any ground over the San Antonio Spurs. Well, after last night's loss and the Spurs' late escape in Boston, the teams are now tied in the loss column. San Antonio has been better since March 1--tops in the league, in fact, and by a wide margin. Add in the home/road splits and the Spurs are now favored by this method to finish first in the Western Conference. They also claim the league's top overall record most of those times, though the simulator doesn't know that the Bulls already hold the tiebreaker.

Last night's win gave the Lakers the clear upper hand in the intra-city battle for the Pacific Division title. The Clippers remain in a tight competition with the Memphis Grizzlies for home-court advantage in a likely first-round matchup.

From there, the West gets messy. Despite sporting an identical record to the Grizzlies, the Dallas Mavericks are closer to the rest of the pack by virtue of getting outscored by 2.3 points per game since March 1. The other four teams still in the playoff picture make it somewhere between a third of the time and 70 percent, reflecting the wide number of possible outcomes. Wednesday's results vaulted the Phoenix Suns over the Denver Nuggets (who suffered a costly loss to a New Orleans Hornets team that could play spoiler with Eric Gordon back in the lineup) and the Utah Jazz.

That one result, which hinged on Paul Millsap's tip-in coming a fraction of a second after the buzzer, cut the Jazz's playoff hopes basically by half, which is indicative of how quickly things can swing in the Western Conference. Every meeting between these teams is worth watching from here on out.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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