|NBA Playoffs, Last 20 Seasons, Numbers, Observations, Predictions.
||[Apr. 19th, 2008|12:00 pm]
|||||Detroit, MI, USA||]|
|||||'Classic' The Price Is Right Theme.||]|
How do I get attention . . . ah, here's a statement. Pistons will win the championship! Did that catch your eye?
They say numbers don't lie . . . over time, that tends to hold true. I decided to look at the last 20 seasons with aid from information at basketball-reference dot com, noting the offeensive, defensive, and overall rank of the Finals champion and the runner-up. Of the following numbers, with regard to strength, 01 is 'best,' and descending from there is 'next best,' and so on. O.Rank is the Offensive number, D.Rank is the defensive number, and OVR is the overall rank, when compared among the teams that season.
Champion O.Rank D.Rank OVR Runner-Up O.Rank D.Rank OVR
06-07 San Antonio Spurs 05 02 01 Cleveland Cavaliers 18 04 07
05-06 Miami Heat 07 09 06 Dallas Mavericks 01 11 03
04-05 San Antonio Spurs 08 01 01 Detroit Pistons 17 03 06
03-04 Detroit Pistons 18 02 04 Los Angeles Lakers 06 08 07
02-03 San Antonio Spurs 07 03 03 New Jersey Nets 18 01 04
01-02 Los Angeles Lakers 02 07 02 New Jersey Nets 17 01 05
00-01 Los Angeles Lakers 02 21 06 Philadelphia 76ers 13 05 07
99-00 Los Angeles Lakers 04 01 01 Indiana Pacers 01 13 06
98-99* San Antonio Spurs 11 01 01 New York Knicks 26 04 13
97-98 Chicago Bulls 08 03 01 Utah Jazz 01 16 05
96-97 Chicago Bulls 01 04 01 Utah Jazz 02 09 02
95-96 Chicago Bulls 01 01 01 Seattle Supersonics 07 02 02
94-95 Houston Rockets 06 12 11 Orlando Magic 01 13 03
93-94 Houston Rockets 15 02 06 New York Knicks 16 01 02
92-93 Chicago Bulls 02 07 04 Phoenix Suns 01 09 03
91-92 Chicago Bulls 01 04 01 Portland Trail Blazers 07 02 02
90-91 Chicago Bulls 01 07 01 Los Angeles Lakers 05 05 03
89-90 Detroit Pistons 11 02 04 Portland Trail Blazers 09 04 03
88-89 Detroit Pistons 07 03 04 Los Angeles Lakers 01 07 03
87-88 Los Angeles Lakers 02 09 03 Detroit Pistons 06 02 02
* = Short Season (98-99 Lockout)
OVR = Basketball Reference's SRS (Simple Rating System) - of all teams in the league, where the team ranked overall.
Average Champion Offensive Rank = 05.95 Last 10 Seasons = 07.20
Average Champion Defensive Rank = 05.05 Last 10 Seasons = 05.00
Average Champion Overall Rank = 03.10 Last 10 Seasons = 02.60
Average Run-Up Offensive Rank = 08.65 Last 10 Seasons = 11.80
Average Run-Up Defensive Rank = 06.00 Last 10 Seasons = 06.60
Average Run-Up Overall Rank = 04.40 Last 10 Seasons = 06.30
So, all those numbers . . . what does it all mean?
Well, for starters, teams like Atlanta have almost no shot.
Of the last 10 seasons, seven teams from the Western Conference have won the title. Of the previous 10 seasons, seven teams from the Eastern Conference have won the title. It appears as if the balance of the league's best teams has swayed heavily in the Western's favor. Given that almost all of this year's Western contenders happen to be in the Top 10 for overall ranking, as you'll see, I'd say that chance of a Western club winning it all is pretty solid.
Of the last 20 seasons, one could say that defense wins championships. The 00-01 Lakers and 94-95 Rockets are the only two teams in this stretch to have won a championship with a defensive ranking below 9th in the NBA. In comparison, there have been four champions of these last 20 who have had an offensive rank below 9th in the NBA. Also, if one looks at the last 10 runners-up, six of them have had team offenses that ranked below 9th in the league. Compare that against 3 runners-up with a team defense of less than 9th in the league! So, don't count out the Spurs and Rockets from making noise this year. Also, beware Philadelphia. Not only did their 2nd half feature stronger play, but they were the 8th-ranked defense in the league.
So, let's look at the rankings of the teams in the hunt this season, by seed . . . plus one honorable mention.
Western 0.Rank D.Rank OVR
01 Los Angeles Lakers 03 05 02
02 New Orleans Hornets 05 07 05
03 San Antonio Spurs 15 03 07
04 Utah Jazz 01 12 03
05 Houston Rockets 17 02 08
06 Phoenix Suns 02 16 06
07 Dallas Mavericks 08 09 10
08 Denver Nuggets 11 10 11
09 Golden State Warriors 04 22 13
01 Boston Celtics 09 01 01
02 Detroit Pistons 06 04 04
03 Orlando Magic 07 05 09
04 Cleveland Cavaliers 19 11 16
05 Washington Wizards 12 24 17
06 Toronto Raptors 09 13 12
07 Philadelphia 76ers 18 08 14
08 Atlanta Hawks 16 18 20
From my own estimate, it looks like Detroit, San Antonio, and New Orleans earned "trap" teams in their first round match. I say Detroit has a "trap" in comparison to Boston, who plays Atlanta. Atlanta can best be described as a "pretender." Atlanta appears to be playing comparable basketball to a usual lottery team. In fact, teams like Portland and Sacramento probably would have put up a better fight against Boston than the Hawks.
For note of oddity, Toronto and Philadelphia rank higher than Cleveland and Washington, who occupy the 4-5 seed and match against each other. When compared to Detroit, Orlando's match should be easier against Toronto, who closed out the season poorly. The Raps ran a 13-18 record since the All-Star break. Orlando ripped a nice streak for the 2nd half, going 19-9 down the stretch. Philly went 17-12 in the 2nd half, so their iron is much hotter than Toronto. It's a shame that Philly got paired with Detroit, however, since an 8th-ranked defense like theirs tends to do damage against playoff teams with weaker defense. If Philly takes Detroit to 6, I'd be surprised, but it's possible. Philly will not go quietly. My guess is Detroit drops one either in the 2nd home game or 1st road match, but they knock out Philly in 5.
San Antonio, on the other hand, should be worried. The funny part about San Antonio's 2nd half . . . all accounts of their play down the stretch range from mediocre to terrible, in assessment. The reality of San Antonio's 2nd half is a 70% win-clip, going 22-9 since the All-Star break. In other words, despite looking really ugly, San Antonio fired up down the stretch. Phoenix stayed hot, too, going 18-11, despite cooling a bit after Shaq's arrival. San Antonio and Phoenix have a lot of fierce contests between them over the last few years, so of all the 1st round matches, this is the must-see.
New Orleans gets a huge test in the first round, pairing with Dallas. The main question revolves around how Chris Paul will handle the playoff pressure. Dallas is a baptism by fire. In '06, the Mavericks were the runner-up in the Finals. Last year, the Mavs won over 60 games, despite losing in the 1st round to Golden State. If you're a Hornets fan, then you absolutely look back with some regret. You wish that late-season game vs. the Lakers went your way. You wish Dallas did just a little better or worse in the last 10 games. Kudos to the Hornets if they advance. New Orleans essentially paired with one of the strongest 7th seeds in some time.
I'm peeking as I write this at the Cleveland / Washington opener. I already saw flailed arms, words, and stares exchanged by LeBron James and Antawn Jamison to close the half. These two teams have a number of playoff games played between them in recent years. Since they're neck-and-neck for overall team strength, this one's shaping out to be as heated as San Antonio against Phoenix.
Of the numbers, and the clubs, the teams I feel have the best shot to win the championship this year . . . Boston, Los Angeles, Utah, and Detroit, not necessarily in that order.
So, what do these numbers mean for Detroit fans?
Well, I feel Detroit didn't exactly get the easiest road. Scoring Toronto in the 1st round would have changed my opinion, but c'est la vie. If (if? when lol) Detroit beats Philly, then they are likely to see Orlando, who is not the same pushover club that Detroit rolled in last year's playoffs. The Magic may not have much experience, but they have a much better coach in Stan Van Gundy. Detroit's trouble round has been the 2nd round, and they've seemingly "hit the wall" during these last two seasons, getting taken to 7 games in '06 by Cleveland, while letting Chicago back in the door during the '07 series after going up 3-0 on the Bulls. My theory is that these Round 2 matches have taken a toll in energy and confidence out of the Pistons, something that they've had to deal with since being a Finals champion and runner-up in '04 and '05. Comparisons to Boston's road shouldn't matter, however, as they'll claim their road was tough, and when it sums, Pistons have to win, regardless of strength of opponent. They're too balanced of a team not to push ahead into the later rounds.
Which brings me to my ultimate point for Pistons fans . . .
This 07-08 club is the most balanced team since the late 1980s. The Pistons also feature similar bench depth to that of the 03-04 club. Nobody who watched this team can write off Jason Maxiell, Rodney Stuckey, Theo Ratliff, Jarvis Hayes, and Aaron Afflalo, in terms of top bench strength among the playoff teams. These kids have ultimately made the Pistons a 10-deep squad on most nights, and 10 players with significant minutes would hardly be a surprise during this run.
So, while Philly may frustrate the Pistons, and the 2nd round opponent may scare the Pistons, and the likely Boston club may bring the greatest challenge this team has faced in some time, Pistons fans should not worry. This club has the tools that few Pistons clubs have ever had . . . they can go the distance, no questions asked. If Detroit gets to the Finals, then the emotion should surge, something akin to what the Pistons demonstrated after squeezing past Indiana back in the '04 series.
And now, my predictions . . . I feel these are always empty for posterity and pregnant for shame, as Hollinger's prediction of Bulls as Eastern favorites should show anyone with a numbers fancy. But people love this stuff for the sheer guts of it, so here's mine. Bold is a lower-seed's advance.
First Round - Celtics in 4, Pistons in 5, Magic in 5, Wizards in 6, Lakers in 4, Hornets in 7, Spurs in 7, Jazz in 6.
Second Round - Celtics in 4, Pistons in 6, Lakers in 5, Spurs in 5.
Conference - Pistons in 7, Lakers in 7.
Finals - Pistons in 7. Unlike the '88 Finals, Detroit squeezes back Game 6 and 7 for the stunner.
Disagree? That's fine. You're welcome to argue your favorite team's chances in favor of Detroit. I'm sure injuries, luck, and *cough*referees*cough* will play a part in reality differing from my stunning future-eye. For what it's worth, good fortune to all the teams, except for Boston, who can bite me until the Pistons outnumber the Celtics for total championships. No one except Boston and Bill Simmons care for anything that happened in the NBA prior to 1970, anyway. Yay, Boston blasphemy! Go Pistons!