ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton examines the 1st round match-ups with an eye on which favorite is most likely to be upset. The basis for this comes from point differential and head-to-head match-ups.
Point differential is the trendy new analytic that we are supposed to care about. I’m sure there will be a new one next season.
Could a 1-8 matchup actually have the best chance of what would be just the fifth such upset since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984?
The reason my model thinks so starts with the fact that Boston’s point differential (plus-2.7 points per game) was the lowest for a No. 1 seed since the 1978-79 Seattle SuperSonics (who went on to win the championship, albeit in a much more balanced league). Only the LA Clippers-Utah Jazz series is closer in terms of point differential. On top of that, the Celtics and Bulls split the season series 2-2.
The Celtics also have the least playoff experience (5,461 minutes) of any No. 1 seed since the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns. Dwyane Wade alone (6,380 minutes) has more playoff experience than Boston’s entire roster, and Chicago has nearly 7,000 more minutes total. In best-of-seven series since 2000, underdogs with an experience edge between 5,000-10,000 minutes have won about 16 percent more series than my model predicted.
Upset probability: 29 percent
On paper, the Bulls are a good team. They have a franchise guy and a former franchise guy who is still capable of making big shots. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Rajon Rondo didn’t have one monster game left in him.
But the Bulls might be the most dysfunctional team in the NBA. There are players who don’t like the coach. There are players who don’t like each other. I can’t envision a team that’s been a mess for 6 months suddenly figures it out in the playoffs. I can see where Pelton is coming from but I like Boston in 6.
It’s absurd the Celtics are being slighted for finishing 1st. The spin would be entirely different if this team still won 53 games but finished behind Cleveland and Toronto. Instead of a weak #1, they’d be hailed a strong #3.
FWIW – the Clippers are next on the list with a 26% chance of losing to Utah. On the flip side, Golden State’s chances of losing to Portland are less than 1%.