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Fan Engagement, Team Performance

Projecting the Conference Semifinals and Who Will Land the NBA’s Top Draft Pick

By: Sacha Pisani, Taylor Bechtold

After a thrilling opening round that included a couple of stunning upsets, all eyes figured to turn to the battle for Los Angeles between the Lakers and Clippers.

This is the dream playoff matchup that everyone had in mind when the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis to team with LeBron James and the Clippers added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the offseason.

There’s also some excitement for the 14 teams that didn’t make the postseason with the NBA’s draft lottery set to take place during this round. Stats Perform is simply taking final regular-season records from our simulation and drawing the teams based on the current odds system that was implemented by the league last year.

Stats Perform used a model similar to the one that projected and simulated the NCAA Tournament to give some insight on how the NBA’s regular season could have gone if play hadn’t been suspended on March 11. After some teams were able to improve their seeding during the simulation, we did the same to project the first-round results:

Now, we’re going to reveal what the model predicts for the second round and which teams saw the ping pong balls go their way in the draft lottery.

How does all this work? Our AI team takes advanced data and creates an offensive and defensive rating for each club. Those ratings are paired with the team’s opponent and adjusted for each team’s pace, and the home team is given a slight boost for home-field advantage. This data is then used to calculate a projected final score.

As this series continues, Stats Perform will also simulate the rest of the postseason before holding our own data-driven mock draft.

CLIPPERS OVER LAKERS, 4-2

LeBron James shoots as Kawhi Leonard defends

With Davis at his side, James entered the playoffs with high hopes in his quest to win another title. The Clippers, however, had other things in mind with Leonard going after his second in a row. The series is about what everyone hoped it would be at 2-2 apiece before the Clippers win 119-100 in Game 5 and 115-105 in Game 6 to close out their Staples Center roommates. The Clips head to the conference finals for the first time while James fails to reach the Finals for the first time in his last nine trips to the postseason.

MAVERICKS OVER JAZZ, 4-2

The Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks pulled off surprising first-round victories to set up their second-round matchup. After dropping the first two games of the series, Luka Doncic and the Mavs turn things around with four straight wins and advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2011 – the year they last won the NBA title.

2020 DRAFT LOTTERY

After finishing with the league’s worst record, the once-mighty Golden State Warriors land the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft for the first time since selecting Joe Smith in 1995. They figure to be in good shape next season when Klay Thompson returns after missing 2019-20 because of a torn ACL.

The Atlanta Hawks caught some luck as they try to build around Trae Young, moving up to the third pick. The rest of the draft went as expected, including the Chicago Bulls drafting seventh for the fourth straight year.

The Bulls had the 16th pick in 2017 but had the Minnesota Timberwolves select Lauri Markkanen for them at No. 7 as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. They’ve drafted Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White seventh the past two years.

PickTeamLottery Odds
1Golden State14.0%
2Cleveland14.0%
3Atlanta10.5%
4Detroit14.0%
5Minnesota12.5%
6New York9.0%
7Chicago6.0%
8Charlotte6.0%
9Phoenix6.0%
10San Antonio3.0%
11Sacramento2.0%
12Washington1.0%
13Portland1.0%
14New Orleans1.0%

BUCKS OVER HEAT, 4-2

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks on the Heat

The Milwaukee Bucks fell short of their first trip to the Finals since 1973-74 last season, but Giannis Antetokounmpo helps them move one step closer with a series victory over the Miami Heat in six games. The Bucks set the tone by crushing the Heat by 34 and 16 points in the first two games on their home floor.

RAPTORS OVER CELTICS, 4-2

In what may be a surprise since Leonard has joined the Clippers, the defending champion Toronto Raptors are heading to the East finals for the second straight season. The Raptors – now led by Pascal Siakam – broke a 2-2 tie with the Boston Celtics, escaping with a 105-104 home win in Game 5 and cruising to a 113-87 victory at Boston to close out the series.

The conference finals are set with an improbable matchup in the West and a rematch of the last year’s conference finals in the East.

Stay tuned later this week when we reveal which teams will advance to the NBA Finals.

Data modeling by Matt Scott, and research support provided by Evan Boyd.