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Saturday, April 19, 2014

2006 Round 1: Odds & Rants

Only a few weeks ago the NCAA had one of it’s most exciting tournaments in recent history. There were plenty of upsets, as few people expected teams like Bradley and Wichita State to make the Sweet 16, and even fewer had George Mason getting to the Final Four. Even the one-sided championship game had enough acrobatics to keep viewers involved. For those that followed the NCAA closely, the opening round of the NBA Playoffs will seem like having War & Peace read aloud in Klingon: too long and quite unnecessary.

Long time readers of KnickerBlogger.Net know that I’m not a big fan of the first round of the playoffs. Mathematically most of the teams don’t have a fair chance of winning the first round. There is a well known equation that given a season’s winning percentages, you can predict the chance of any team winning a single game. If Milwaukee (.488 winning % on the season) played Detroit (.780) in a single game, they have a 21.2% chance of winning that game. Poor odds for the Cunningham family, but certainly doable. However, if the Bucks have to win 3 out of 5 games those odds drop to 6.7%. Make it 4 of 7 games, and it plummets further to 4.1%. All the above calculations were made using a neutral court. Factor in home court advantage, and well, the Bucks have already jumped the shark on their 2006 season.

Obviously I cherry-picked my example, as Detroit has the best chance of winning their 7 game series (96.1%). However the Spurs aren’t that far behind with a 92.4% chance. Despite the Grizzlies having the highest win% of all the road teams, their opponents, the Mavericks, are the third most likely to win at 80.8%. Granted not all the series are this lopsided. The second worst matchup is the Nets, but they still have a robust 72.6% chance of winning. If the Nets-Pacers played NCAA style, one game in a neutral arena, the Nets would only win 59.8% of the time.

It’s obvious that the collegiate style of tournament play would make for a more intense game, but unfortunately the league runs on money. Two weeks of television commercial revenue, ticket sales, and concessions mean more to the league owners than the integrity of the playoffs. As if the too long playoff system isn’t enough, the NBA has given critics another reason to ridicule the league. By David’s Sternpidity, the West’s 7th best team will get a home round advantage for the first round against the 6th best team. Had the NBA kept the 5 game series, the Nuggets would have about the same odds as winning one game in a neutral court (46.4%) as they would 5 with 3 games at home (46.1%). But the NBA’s expansion of the first round into 7 games, drops their chances down to 45.5%.

Outside of the Nuggets & Clippers, fans of the Wizards, Pacers, and Lakers have a reasonable chance of an upset. Meanwhile the rest of the games are not likely to be meaningful unless a home team suffers an injury to an integral player. The real excitement of the NBA playoffs come in the later rounds, where the difference between the teams are less pronounced, and the stakes are higher.

TEAM
One Game
(neutral field)
One Game
(home game)
5 Game
(neutral field)
7 Game
(neutral field)

5 Games
(modified for home field)*

7 Games
(modified for home field)*
Pistons
78.8%
84.8%
93.3%
95.9%
93.4%
96.1%
Heat
63.4%
72.2%
73.9%
77.3%
75.3%
78.7%
Nets
59.8%
69.1%
67.9%
70.6%
69.6%
72.6%
Cavs
59.9%
69.1%
68.0%
70.7%
69.7%
72.6%
Spurs
74.1%
81.1%
88.6%
92.0%
89.0%
92.4%
Suns
61.4%
70.4%
70.6%
73.6%
72.1%
75.3%
Nuggets
46.4%
56.5%
43.2%
42.1%
46.1%
45.5%
Mavs
64.7%
73.4%
76.1%
79.6%
77.3%
80.8%

Note: Odds “modified for home team” are approximated using the binomial formula with the home team odds as (4*chance of winning game at home + 3*chance of winning game away)/7.

5 comments on “2006 Round 1: Odds & Rants

  1. Mateo

    Would you really want a one and done playoffs? It would make the 82 game schedule even more meaningless than people already perceive it to be.

  2. Mateo

    Just thinking a little more about this problem. I wouldn’t mind seeing them drop the playoff teams down to 7, giving the leader in each conference a 1st round bye, and then drop the first and maybe even second rounds down to 5 games (maybe even 3 for the first). That would help make it more exciting, allowing the possibility of big upsets, while still giving teams something to play for during the regular season.

  3. Dane

    I am in agreement with the concept of making the first round a 5 games series. I think these series were extended to 7 games in order to make sure, that the weaker teams get to host 2 playoff games and bring in more revenue for the owners. I am sure that this issue can be resolved by arranging to have the team with the better record playing the 1st game at home and then have the next two games on the road and then if neccessary the last 2 at home.

  4. Alexander

    Making the playoffs collegiate style is pretty unreasonable, sorry. Actually, I don’t have a beef getting to see the best players as much as possible. What exactly is your problem (besides being depressed…)?

    Also, your analysis would be more credible if you wouldn’t have given the Nuggets home court advantage…

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