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Playoff Race Reset

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Alright, since everyone in the league was off last night, it's time to reset the playoff race.

I'm going to break down the remaining win probabilities for each of the four teams in the hunt - the Lakers, Kings, Hornets and Jazz. (My previous posts on win probability are here and here.)

The formula used to predict the win probability for games was borrowed from Ed Kupfer, an illustrious poster at the APBRmetric forum. Specifically in this thread, Kupfer lays out the statistical basis for the WinProb formula, which calculates the probability of a home team winning given winning percentages, location of the game and days of rest for each team.

Let's start with the Lakers, who have seven games left:

(Let's do some explaining: date, home and away should be obvious. H-Win% and A-Win% are the home and away teams' current winning percentages, respectively. H-Rest is days since the last game for the home team; A-Rest is the same for the away team. H-Prob is the calculated probability of the home team winning. T-Prob is the calculated WinProb for the team in question - in this case, the Lakers.)

After the road back-to-back this week, it's almost smooth sailing for the Lakers with their last five games coming at home.

The toughest of those five is against Phoenix, who with three days left in the season might take to resting semi-frail Steve Nash and overworked Shawn Marion. Even if the Suns play like they have all season, the Lakers still have a 48% probability of winning. The game is essentially a toss-up.

L.A.'s two road games should be losses, with the Lakers having only a 44.8% probability of winning one of them and a 4.8% likelihood of winning both.  There's a 60% likelihood the Lakers lose them both.

The most likely scenario for the five home games is sadly 4-1, with the loss coming to either the Clippers (who aren't really the away team) or the Suns.

So, couple with L.A.'s current record, that would have the Lakers ending the season at 44-38, and easily in the playoffs.

Let's move on to our eighth place Kings:

As we all know, this week is going to be tough. The likelihood of winning one of the next three is  55.9%. The likelihood of winning two is 43.2%. All three? 0.5%. Yikes. Losing all three? 53.3%. Uhh...

So the most likely scenario is to go 1-2 this week. The second most likely scenario is to go 0-3. The third is 2-1, and there is an absolutely miniscule chance to 3-0.

It looks the best bet is to pray for a split in Texas and hope the dominance of the Clippers continues.

But let's assume the worst: 0-3. The Kings close out with 4 of 5 in ARCO. Three of those home games leave the Kings with a strong probability of winning, and the other is Phoenix. The road game is Denver, always a difficult task.

So, let's imagine 3-2 in the last five - a near worst-case scenario - coupled with this week's 0-3 worst case scenario. That's finishing 3-5, and leaving the Kings with a 2005-06 regular season record of 41-41.

If the Kings can pull out either one game on the current road swing or one of the games against Denver or Phoenix, they'd sit at 42-40, still probably two games behind L.A. for the coveted seventh spot. If they manage to steal one from the Clippers and hold court against Phoenix, they'd be 43-39, still likely a game back.

But if the Lakers manage to lose on the home floor to Phoenix and the Clippers - which is very possible - while the Kings hit their likely best-case scenario, then it's gravy. The teams would tie for the seventh position, and (should the scenarios play out) the Kings would hold the tiebreaker advantage. (Since the teams split their four matchups, the next tiebreaker in conference record. If those were even, it'd go to division record. Luckily, because the Kings lost to a wealth of Eastern teams this season, they hold a sturdy advantage in both categories. Of course, had they not lost so many games against Eastern teams, they might not be in this predicament.)

So, the Kings really need to go 5-3 to have a shot at seventh place, with the Lakers going 4-3. And yes, that scenario is plausible, if hopeful. And I'm hopeful. So I'm predicting it. There. Happy?

Don't sleep on the Hornets, though:

Actually, you might be able to sleep on the Hornets. They have 10 games left, with four likely wins (hosting Golden State, Toronto, Seattle and Utah), one toss-up (versus Cleveland) and five likely losses (at Detroit, Dallas, Sacramento, Phoenix and the Lakers). The Utah game will be tough, and I would guess that the Hornets could steal one at the end of the season from Phoenix or L.A. So, 5-5 seems real reasonable. (For the record, the sum of probabilities is 4.6 - that means the Hornets are expected to win 4.6 of these games. Five seems right.)

Going 5-5 would put the Hornets at 40-42. The Kings would have to go 2-6 to fall back to the Hornets at that pace, something very unlikely to happen.

But remember that worst-case scenario for the Kings up there? It was 3-5, with losses at Dallas, San Antonio, the Clippers and Denver and a home loss to Phoenix. It didn't count a home loss to the Hornets.

What if it was the Hornets instead of the Suns who beat the Kings in ARCO? Then, you'd likely have the Hornets going 6-4 and finishing 41-41. The 3-5 finish would put the Kings at 41-41. The Hornets, having taken two of three from Sacramento already, would have the tiebreaker and make the playoffs.


So, um, like I said: Don't sleep on the Hornets. All they have to do is take care of business at home and beat the Kings in ARCO (and hope the Kings can't win in Texas or SoCal).

There's one last team in the hunt - the Utah Jazz:

It's actually pretty grim for the Jazz, who still have San Antonio twice and Dallas once. That's like three sure losses. Let's start with that. 0-3.

Utah's other road games are in Minnesota and New Orleans. We've assumed New Orleans will hold serve against Utah in Oklahoma City, but I can imagine the Jazz beating the Wolves. That's 1-4.

The other four home games for Utah (besides San Antonio's visit tonight) are Portland, Houston, Denver and Golden State. 4-0 in those isn't impossible, but it's unlikely at a 24.1% probability. 3-1 is more likely at 43.4%. So let's go with 3-1.

That makes 4-5 total, and a 39-43 record - not even sniffing the playoffs.

So the Jazz would have to beat the Hornets (40-42), sweep the non-Spurs home games (41-41) and steal one in their Dallas-San Antonio back-to-back (42-40) to pass a Kings team that finishes 3-5 (which was a worst-case scenario, not counting a Hornets loss). The Jazz, by not having a shot at the tiebreaker with the Kings, need a miracle, really.

All theoryball aside, here's what it looks like will happen (through my royal purple tinged glasses):

The Kings will go 5-3, finishing 44-38 and in seventh place.
The Lakers will go 4-3, finishing 44-38 and in eighth place due to tiebreakers.
The Hornets will go 5-5, finishing 40-42 and in ninth place.
The Jazz will go 4-5, finishing 39-43 and in tenth place.

Bank on it! (Actually, don't.)