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Fan Engagement, Team Performance

NBA Model Projects Bucks to Match History, Clips to Slip Out West

By: Tom Webber, Taylor Bechtold

With every team having at least 15 games left to play, the NBA playoff picture was left far from completed on March 11.

The Los Angeles Lakers were the only team in the Western Conference to have secured their place in the playoffs, where the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics had also qualified in the East.

On the flip side, the Golden State Warriors were the only team that had been mathematically eliminated and 25 other clubs still had at least a slim chance of reaching the postseason.

Using an innovative model similar to the one that projected and simulated the NCAA Tournament, Stats Perform is giving some insight on what could happen at the end of the regular season – and beyond.

The model takes proprietary data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each team. Those ratings are paired with the team’s opponent and adjusted for each team’s pace. In addition, the home team gets a slight boost for home-field advantage.

The model uses this information to calculate a projected score for both teams. But we’re not going to leave fans hanging after the regular season. As this series continues, Stats Perform will also simulate every round of the playoffs and hold both our own draft lottery and data-driven mock draft.

Before we reveal next week who advanced to the second round of the NBA playoffs, let’s find out what our model projected would happen over the final stretch of the regular season…

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, knocks down Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis as he drives to the basket Friday, March 6, 2020, in Los Angeles.

BUCKS MATCH FRANCHISE RECORD

Not surprisingly, the Bucks hang on to the top seed in the East, with our model projecting them to go 13-4 to match the best record in franchise history.

The 1970-71 team also finished 66-16 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson led the franchise to its only title. This Milwaukee club booked a first-round playoff date with the Orlando Magic.

In the only change to the top eight from the current standings, the Philadelphia 76ers beat out the Indiana Pacers to grab the fifth seed, meaning they draw the Miami Heat in the first round for the second time in three years. The Sixers won that first series against the Heat before falling in the second round. The Pacers must take on the Celtics as a consequence.

The Brooklyn Nets (39-43) and Magic (38-44) are in despite having losing records – it is the first time since 2014-15 that more than one team under .500 made the playoffs. The Raptors await the Nets in the first round.

The Detroit Pistons finish at the bottom of the East after dropping 12 of their last 16 games to finish with a 24-58 record.

In the final week of the regular season, the Raptors rolled to a 152-96 win over the Atlanta Hawks. Only 10 games in NBA history have had a larger margin of victory.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic posts up in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, March 5, 2020.

NUGGETS, ROCKETS SOAR OUT WEST

The Lakers cruise to 64-18 in the West, claiming their best record since 2008-09 when they went 65-17 and won the NBA title. With the top seed in the conference, they’ll take on Ja Morant and the young Memphis Grizzlies to open the postseason.

The other team in Los Angeles wasn’t so lucky, as the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets went on late runs to drop the Clippers to fourth.

Los Angeles, which went 10-9 over the final month, gets an intriguing first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Paul George and Chris Paul facing their former teams.

The Nuggets go 16-1 down the stretch to take the No. 2 seed, earning a playoff date with the Dallas Mavericks. After winning 15 of 18 to earn the third seed, the Houston Rockets will face the Utah Jazz – who slipped to sixth after going 8-10 in crunch time.

New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson will have to wait for his first playoff appearance, while the Portland Trail Blazers are out of the postseason for the first time since 2013.

The once-mighty Warriors end up 22-60 – the worst record in the NBA.

NO HOPE FOR BULLS, KNICKS, OTHERS

While the final standings were taken from the first simulation, the outcome of the regular season was simulated on 10,000 different occasions in order to generate the most accurate possible percentage chance of each team finishing in the playoffs.

The resulting data suggests the Grizzlies won a highly contested fight for the West’s final spot, having only done so in 41.1% of the simulations. The Pelicans took the spot 24.4% of the time, the Blazers 13.4%, the Kings 10.7% and the Spurs 10.0%. The Magic and Nets both had a success rate above 99% in the East, while the Washington Wizards (0.05) and the Phoenix Suns (0.04) are the biggest outsiders.

In addition to the Warriors, the model did not project the New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Chicago Bulls, Hawks or Cavaliers to make the playoffs even once.

Advanced analytics and data analysis provided by Stats Perform’s Matt Scott and Evan Boyd.