With the beginning of the NBA playoffs comes predictions from everyone and their mother (seriously, some guy at ESPN has his mother predict the playoffs every year, she's not bad if I remember correctly). I figured I'd join in.
My analysis comes mainly from a weighted regression analysis of relevant team statistics from the season. I type in numbers, the computer spits out answers. This method has had decent success. Two years ago it predicted the conference runner-ups (Suns and Magic) to meet in the Finals. Unfortunately for them, the Lakers and Celtics both kicked it up a notch in the playoffs, something the formula can't predict. Last year went haywire after the Spurs were ousted in the first round. Let's hope that doesn't happen again.
On to the picks.
Bulls v. Sixers
I won't waste your time. The Bulls are the highest rated Eastern Conference team. They had the best defense and best overall efficiency differential. They were also the best rebounding team in the league. The only hit they took was in total team PER. The Sixers were a very good defensive team, but had an average offense. They did an excellent job not turning the ball over, but saw trouble rebounding. The Sixers actually ended up being the 3rd highest rated team out East. Unfortunately, their second half skid landed them a tough first round match-up.
Celtics v. Hawks
So the Celtics finished higher in the standings, but the Hawks will have home court. Boston was an elite defensive team during the second half, but is poor at rebounding. They move the ball well and hit shots on offense, getting enough done while they grind down opponents at the other end. Atlanta's shot in this series will be on the offensive end. They have solid assist/turnover numbers and shoot well enough. Will they be able to do this against the lockdown Celtics? The computer believes so and while this would be one place where I might be inclined to disagree, I trust the Hawks ability to get only to the second round.
Pacers v. Magic
Dwight Howard isn't playing. That should be enough right there. The Magic were not a very good team to begin with and will only be worse without their best player. The Pacers, on the other hand, went under the radar to claim the number 3 spot and have a better winning percentage than the Lakers. They ended up somewhere around 8th-10th in almost every category, with the only exception being assist/turnover numbers, indicative of their post-heavy style of play. The Magic rate out as the worst Eastern Conference team. Done and done.
Heat v. Knicks
This will be a star-studded one. And while I like the intrigue of New York unseating the Big 3, I just don't see it. Miami had a top-5 offense and defense, while the Knicks relied heavily on their much improved defensive prowess and still finished behind Miami. It will be an entertaining one, for sure, and we can hope for 7 games, but overall the Heat are too loaded.
Spurs v. Jazz
Who led the league in offensive efficiency? None other than the Spurs, a team that won 4 championships with elite defense. They also had the best team PER. The Jazz, while riding an impressive offense to this playoff berth, were the lowest rated playoff team. Their frontcourt quality and depth might be enough to extend this series, but overall San Antonio will be too much.
Grizzlies v. Clippers
Memphis seems to be a trendy pick due to their upset last year. The computer doesn't see it. They rate as the 7th best Western Conference team, well behind their opponent Clippers. Zach Randolph was a revelation last year, but can he do it again? Is the addition of Rudy Gay enough to carry them? Will Tony Allen shut down Chris Paul? It's possible, but I think the high-octane Clippers offense will be enough to get them past the first round.
Lakers v. Nuggets
And here's the first big upset. Denver and LA stand at 6th and 7th in the computer standings and its very close. It again seems prudent to go against the computer, but I think the match-up could be good for the Nuggets. Denver will use the speed of Ty Lawson coupled with the athleticism of Afflao, Faried, and McGee to keep the Lakers disoriented. They'll have to be smart against the Lakers bigs and Afflalo will have to disrupt Kobe, but I think this is well within reason.
Thunder v. Mavericks
A first-round rematch of last years conference finals, it will be interesting to see if the Thunder can shake the demons of last years defeat. I think they'll be fine. They computer has a wide disparity between these two teams and I think the youth of Oklahoma City will be too much for Dallas. OKC will have plenty of bodies to throw at Dirk again and the other options in Dallas are limited.
Bulls v. Hawks
The Hawks will be tasked with scoring enough to beat the two elite offenses of the league. I don't think they'll have enough. The Bulls point of attack with Derrick Rose and low post passing will give the Atlanta D trouble while the destructive second unit will be able to flood the strong side against Joe Johnson.
Heat v. Pacers
I think this one will be tough for the Heat. Really tough. The computer doesn't think so, but I think the size and athleticism of the Pacers will give the wing-heavy offense of the Heat some problems. Hibbert and West will also be able to play over the top of much of the Heat's frontcourt. While I think this will be quite the series, I can't pick against the Heat just yet.
Spurs v. Clippers
There will be points. And great point guard play. At the end of the day, the Spurs have the capability for stops more so than the Clippers and their ability to stretch the floor will tax the wings of LA.
Thunder v. Nuggets
And even more points. This will be an insanely exciting offensive series and the first team to miss might be the loser. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, a lot of their strengths can also be strengths for the Thunder. Playing uptempo, a fast point guard, and an athletic shot blocking big man apply to both teams. It's just that OKC did it better than Denver throughout the season and will continue in the postseason.
Bulls v. Heat
As you can tell, four teams set themselves apart this postseason. These two teams will meet again for a place in the Finals and this time I think Chicago comes out on top. Their ability to contain wings with their flood-style defense and the return of Rose to orchestrate the offense will prove enough to carry the Bulls.
Spurs v. Thunder
Ok, so the computer isn't much for upsets. The Spurs were rated as the best team and it continues here. I could easily see the Thunder winning this one, but I have to side with the numbers on this one.
Bulls v. Spurs
And so San Antonio will have their fifth title. The Bulls defense could be enough to stop the scorching veteran attack of the Spurs, but again, they were pretty solidly the best team by the numbers and I have to stick with that.