Picking the Second Round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs

After the first round of the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown, I am currently holding down third place.  Jeff Ma, John Hollinger, and I all correctly called seven of the first eight series.  Ma and Hollinger, though, did better at calling the number of games in each series.  Consequently, I am a bit off the lead.

The big story in this contest, though, is not the leader-board, but the consistency in the picks.  There was complete agreement with respect to five of the first round match-ups.  And in only one series – the Dallas-San Antonio match-up – did the majority number less than six.  And in this case, the majority was incorrect (I was with the minority).

Across the past few days we have all been submitting our picks as the second round contestants were determined.  And now that all of the second round participants have been identified, I want quickly review my picks.

Before I get to these picks, let’s review the basic methodology:

For the most part I am considering two pieces of information:

  • Efficiency Differential or Offensive Efficiency minus Defensive Efficiency.
  • Home-court advantage.

In general, efficiency differential is all you need to know in choosing the favorite.  But if the teams are close, home-court advantage can make a difference.

With my approach outlined again, let me briefly comment on each series in the second round.

Denver Nuggets vs. Dallas Mavericks

Comments: If we focused strictly on the regular season efficiency differentials (Denver’s mark was 3.51 while Dallas finished at 2.09), and the fact Denver has home-court advantage, the Nuggets would be a clear favorite.  But as I noted before, Dallas underperformed this year.  Specifically, Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard underachieved.  Had Nowitzki and Howard played as they did last year, the Mavericks would have challenged the Lakers this year.  Towards the end of the season – and in the first round against the Spurs – Nowitzki and Howard returned to form.  If this continues against the Nuggets, Denver is in trouble.

So this is the dilemma facing someone trying to call the series.  Will Nowitzki and Howard keep playing well?  And will this be enough to overcome Denver’s home-court advantage? My preference is to not pretend to know the answer to these questions.  But the contest calls on me to make a call, so I picked… Denver. 

I will note – despite today’s game (and I made my pick before today) – of all my second round picks it’s this series that was the hardest to call.  And if Dallas does what I think they can do, I am going to be unhappy.

Pick: Denver over Dallas (4-3)

LA Lakers vs. Houston Rockets

Comments:  Not really much to say here.  The Lakers are a better team than the Rockets.  Of course, I thought the Blazers were better than the Rockets, and that didn’t work out for me.  But this time I really, really think the Rockets are not the best team.

Pick: LA Lakers over Houston Rockets (4-1)

Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

Comments: If we focused strictly on the regular season efficiency differentials (Boston with a mark of 8.0 vs. Orlando at 7.1), and the fact Boston has home-court advantage, I think we would say Boston in six.  But Kevin Garnett is injured.  Without Garnett the Celtics struggled against Chicago.  And when we look at some numbers, it’s easy to see why.

Table One: Comparing Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett

As I noted a few days ago, Glen Davis was one of the least productive players in 2008-09.  Table One reveals that Davis in 2008-09 was below average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, blocked shots, assists, and personal fouls.  When we look at his 2009 post-season performance, Davis is still below average with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, and blocked shots. 

Of course, the below average conclusion comes from a comparison between Davis and an average power forward.  What if we compare Davis to Garnett?  As Table One notes, with respect to almost every stat the Celtics suffer when they move from KG to Big Baby.  And I think this is why the Celtics will suffer at the hands of the Magic.

Let me add one more observation.  Marcin Gortat’s performance against Philadelphia in the decisive Game Six might be just enough to convince the Magic to give Gortat more playing time (for more on Gortat see HERE and HERE).  If that happens, Orlando should fare even better in the second round.

At the moment, though, I am going to assume that Dwight Howard will avoid suspensions and the Magic will not be playing Gortat much.  So although I still favor Orlando, I think Boston’s home-court advantage will keep it close.

Pick: Orlando over Boston (4-3)

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks

Comments: This appears to be the biggest mismatch of the second round.  It’s possible the Hawks can win a game, but it’s very unlikely the Hawks could win the series.

Pick: Cleveland over Atlanta (4-0)

And I am still not sure who I will pick as the eventual champion (although I will have to decide soon).

- DJ

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Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.

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