Boston Celtics

The Race for Home Court: Handicapping the 2011 NBA Contenders

The 2011 NBA ContendersSo I just got back from Vegas after an exhausting 1st weekend of March Madness. Like many others, this has become an “annual” tradition, now in it’s 10th year, for my friends and I. If you’re not doing it, and are single, establish this tradition NOW. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

The weekend is spent as follows: 20 hours of watching NCAA basketball (which brings my total college basketball watching for the year to…20 hours), catching up with old friends and drinking cocktails we used to drink 10 years ago (Jack and Coke, anyone?), and spending Sunday wondering why in our mid-30s we put our bodies through such hell each year. Most of the NCAA teams were unwatchable unless you had action at the sportsbook. One team, however, stood out. The Ohio State Buckeyes were the class of the weekend, destroying all teams in their path and asserting their stature as the no.1 overall seed.

So that got me thinking…who will be this year’s “no. 1 seed” in the NBA?

First off,  some ground rules. I only consider you eligible for a no. 1 seed if you are a contender. Sorry Spurs fan — this means, even though you’ve had an amazing regular season, you are eliminated from consideration. There is just NO way you get past the Lakers.

Same with you Mavericks fan.

That leaves me with really 4 teams I believe still have a legitimate shot at the title this year: the Lakers, Bulls, Celtics, and Heat. All of these teams are heading toward a photo finish, with only 2.5 games separating them with over 10 games left to play. Home court is critical. The question is: based on strength of schedules, tiebreakers, and momentum, which of these teams is most likely to claim the “no. 1” seed for the playoffs? This is where we think each team will end up (with their accompanying “seed”):

4. Miami Heat (49-22, Projected record: 58-24)

Home/Away: 5 home, 6 away

Key games left: Boston

# of teams facing still in playoff contention: 3

Opposing teams winning percentage: .401

While the Miami Heat enter the home stretch with the worst record of the four contenders, their remaining strength of schedule is by far the easiest, with their final 11 opponents having a creampuff winning percentage of .401. Miami finishes its season against some of the worst teams in the NBA: the likes of Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Toronto. It is likely that the Heat’s biggest game of the season (and perhaps THE game of the regular season) will be the April 10th grudge match at home vs. the Boston Celtics. The easy schedule gives the Heat the opportunity to make up some ground (they currently trail the Celtics by 1.5 games), but with only 11 games left and no tiebreaker (the Heat have already lost their 1st two games to the Celtics this year), it appears their time may run out. Not having home court advantage in potentially 3 straight series (Celtics, Bulls, and Lakers) will probably ultimately be the Scheme Team’s downfall in trying to get their 1st ring.

3. Boston Celtics (50-20, Projected record: 58-24)

Games remaining: 12 (5 home, 7 away)

Key games left: @Atlanta, @San Antonio, @Chicago, @Miami

# of Playoff teams left to face: 7

Opposing teams winning percentage: .478

Despite Danny Ainge’s attempts to trade away the Celtics’ championship hopes for a future that is largely inconsequential (Green and Rondo are your building blocks? Really?), the Celtics still have the inside track to come out of the East. That said, it is more than likely they will limp to the finish, with 7 playoff teams still to play and the most road games left of any contender. The road schedule is particularly brutal, with the Celtics going on the road to face 3 of the top 5 NBA teams. Combine that with lingering injuries to the O’Neals and it will take all of the Celtics’ efforts to hold off a surging Heat team.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (51-20, Projected record: 59-23)

Games remaining: 11 (7 home, 4 away)

Key games left: Dallas, OKC, San Antonio, @Portland

# of teams still facing playoff contention: 6

Opposing teams winning percentage: .541

The Lakers have paid their road dues this year, and their reward is entering the final stretch with the most home friendly schedule. Unfortunately however, the Lakers have by far the toughest
can the lakers get no. 1schedule of the contenders, with games against a few teams that give them the most trouble: Portland at the Rose Garden and a hot OKC team. Kobe Bryant is also banged up, injuring his ankle and neck in recent weeks (though the Suns wouldn’t know it). As such, it is unlikely the Lakers will be able to catch the Chicago Bulls for the overall no. 1 seed in the playoffs. All is not lost though Laker fan: it may be preferable to play the Bulls on the road than the Heat or Celtics at home.

1. Chicago Bulls (51-19, Projected record: 60-22)

Games Remaining: (6 home, 6 away)

Key games left: Boston, @Orlando

# of teams facing still in playoff contention: 5

Opposing teams winning percentage: .436

How about them Baby Bulls? A rookie head coach. An up and coming point guard. And a team that has no idea it isn’t supposed to have the best record in the East. With the fewest losses coming into this last stage of the season and the 2nd softest schedule among the contenders, the Bulls appear primed to make a run at the no. 1 overall seed among NBA contenders (again, not counting Duncan and the Spurs). They have what appears to be 4 guaranteed wins against the Wizards (twice), Pistons, and Timberwolves, which means they would only need to go 5-3 in their other 8 games to reach the vaunted 60-win mark.

So the Bulls are our pick to get home court advantage over the other contenders, but – just like another no. 1 seed, Pittsburgh, found out – it’s not what seed you are, it’s what you do with it…


20 Responses to “The Race for Home Court: Handicapping the 2011 NBA Contenders”

  1. What is the HC tiebreaker for teams with the season series tied? Ala Lakers and Celtics…

    Posted by Korey | March 24, 2011, 6:26 am
  2. I’m a Laker fan but leaving the Spurs out basically invalidated this post

    Posted by Matt | March 24, 2011, 11:19 am
  3. why’s that? the post was basically about ranking the homecourt chances of the contenders, and clearly brown mamba doesn’t consider the spurs to be a contender. (and frankly, neither do it)

    Posted by mzelliot | March 24, 2011, 12:42 pm
  4. I have to disagree with this article. I think people count the Spurs out too fast. Duncan plays a small role in the regular season and people automatically think he cannot put up the type of numbers he has in the past. His minutes come playoffs time will be closer to 40 minutes a game and you will see a different Spurs team once things get going.

    I agree its difficult for them to beat the Lakers, but home court means a lot in the playoffs and the Spurs will have that in their favor.

    Posted by Rob | March 24, 2011, 1:53 pm
  5. Here’s why I don’t take the Spurs seriously. They have gotten bounced out of the playoffs for 3 consecutive years (last year, they were swept out by the SUNS). Each year, Duncan has gotten progressively older and less effective. They also have a number of inexperienced players on their team. Have they had a great regular season? Absolutely. Have they greatly overachieved? Absolutely.

    I don’t buy the Spurs can beat the Lakers in a 7 game series. Recent history has provided nothing to suggest otherwise. Sorry, I don’t.

    Posted by Brown Mamba | March 24, 2011, 2:18 pm
  6. Yeah, you lost me when you said the Spurs have no chance of beating the lakers. I guess if you are that certain you should just bet your house on it. And your reasoning is also flawed. Recent history? So you take the small sample size that supports your argument and leave the rest out? What about this year’s history? What about the fact that you can’t really compare this year’s Spurs to recent history because they are a totally different team, which is why they are winning so much. Their offense has never been this good, or this efficient. They have young legs now to compliment Duncan. Guys that are hungry and have gotten progressively better. There’s a reason the Spurs are running away with the best record in the Western Conference. It’s not dumb luck. And it’s not a given that they will not get past the Lakers, anymore than the bulls/heat/celtics get out of the East. With that said, IMO, I do think the Lakers will come out of the West and the Heat will come out of the East. Both teams have too much talent to be contained for an entire 7 game series.

    Posted by Adrian | March 25, 2011, 6:15 am
    • The Heat will come out of the East because they have too much talent to be contained? Is that why the Bulls swept them this year? Is that why they have an atrocious record against elite teams? The Heat are the most flawed team out of any “contender”, and are not built for the playoffs at all. Even if all three of those guys score 30 a piece, they have no bench and no inside presence. As the Bulls and other teams have shown, take away their transition game, and they have no game. Those three clowns can’t put up the kind of numbers they need to win four games in a seven game series.

      Posted by JC | March 25, 2011, 2:10 pm
    • Adrian — it’s the NBA,anyone can beat anyone, sure. Just ask the Dallas Mavericks about the Warriors a few years back. Unfortunately, I’m not dealing with what MIGHT happen, I’m having a discussion about what is LIKELY to happen. It so happens I believe there are only 4 likely contenders this year: the Lakers, Bulls, Heat, and Celtics. How likely? I’d put it at 99% that one of those teams leaves the year with a ring.

      As for you rationale that talent is the reason why these teams will make it. .I don’t think it’s that simple.

      Posted by Brown Mamba | March 25, 2011, 3:03 pm
  7. Oh, and the Heat win the tiebreaker for HC against the Lakers. Heat in 7.

    Posted by Adrian | March 25, 2011, 6:17 am
  8. @ Adrian: The Heat will come out of the East because they have too much talent to be contained? Is that why the Bulls swept them this year? Is that why they have an atrocious record against elite teams? The Heat are the most flawed team out of any “contender”, and are not built for the playoffs at all. Even if all three of those guys score 30 a piece, they have no bench and no inside presence. As the Bulls and other teams have shown, take away their transition game, and they have no game. Those three clowns can’t put up the kind of numbers they need to win four games in a seven game series.

    Posted by JC | March 25, 2011, 12:35 pm
    • The heat have just as much of an inside presence as the bulls & celtics do. The team that has the greatest inside presence out of the 4 have been beaten by the heat twice.

      What do you mean by flawed? The last 2 NBA season the Cavs had the best record in the league by far & they didn’t even make it to the FInals meanwhile the Celtics struggled to get through the season and managed to take the Lakers to 7 games in the Finals(and arguably could have won it if Kendrick Perkins doesn’t go down in game 6). The year that lebron managed to lead the Cavs to the finals, they were 4th or 5th seed and beat the #1 seeded Detroit Pistons in 6 games despite theri home court advantage.

      The playoffs is different. A great regular season does not guarantee a great run in the playoffs much the same that a poor regular season guarantee that your playoff run will end quickly.

      Posted by Lloyd Pearson IV | March 28, 2011, 10:36 am
  9. Yeah. I’m a Lakers Fan too, but counting the Spurs out of the equation is just a disrespect to the leagues best (record wise) team. I mean, they beat Boston @Boston when they had Perkins, they beat the Heat. Beat the Lakers. However they did get smashed though by the lakers. I would take Spurs over ANY team in the East.

    Posted by Josh | March 28, 2011, 1:06 pm
    • Josh — I probably say the Spurs-Bulls is close, and the Spurs have a tough time in a 7 game series against the Heat or Celtics, but that being said, my argument was predicated off the belief that there is a very low chance that the Spurs can get out of the West (which makes what they do against the East a moot point).

      Posted by Brown Mamba | April 4, 2011, 2:54 pm
  10. Was in desperate need of a new basketball blog, and this one looked oh-so-promising, until, in this post, you counted out the Spurs for reasons yet to be sufficiently explained.

    Just thought you should know that generally good topic selection, thoughtful/in-depth analysis, and clever writing can be and is trumped by the inclusion of an assumption so glaringly short-sighted that nearly half the commenters called you out on it.

    Posted by Jenkins | April 4, 2011, 2:14 pm
    • Jenkins — thanks for the read and the (semi) kind words :)

      I understand why some people would be disappointed by the fact I omitted the Spurs. This is just my opinion in terms of who I think has a realistic shot to come away with the title.

      Basic logic: I think the Bulls, Heat and Celtics all have a fair chance of coming out of the East and once in the Finals, have a decent chance at pulling out a championship (and the only reason I really include the Bulls is because (1) they will have homecourt advantage and (2) are playing extremely well heading into the end of the season).

      On the other hand, regardless of their record, I just don’t see any way the Spurs make it past the Lakers. In fact, I see them struggling against a younger, more athletics OKC team (should they meet in the 2nd round). In the last few years, the Spurs age has tended to appear as the season has gotten further in, and this year, with all of their injuries, has been no exception.

      Again, just my opinion — we’ll let it be decided on the court…

      Posted by Brown Mamba | April 4, 2011, 2:51 pm
      • Well, damnit, with such measured responses as this from you, Mamba, maybe I WILL be visiting from time to time…

        Basic counter-logic: I agree with you 100% about the 3 teams to potentially come out of the East, but locking in the Lakers to face one of them is jumping the gun a bit, no? Defending champs, size/interior presence, great role players, peaking at the right time of the season, and hey, KOBE – I get it. I’m appropriately afraid of them, don’t get me wrong. But they’ve been shown to be vulnerable to the fast break and a lane-clogging D, and are a bit inconsistent, earning “signature” losses this season against Dallas, Denver, SA, and Memphis, the latter of which has a much better shot than perceived at bouncing them if they meet in the first round. Like you said, anyone can beat anyone. I know the regular season is a different animal (I’m hoping so, considering the Spurs’ play of late), but you gotta know that many teams gear up for the Lakers more than any other contender b/c they are the ultimate measuring stick. On the other hand, I’m not sure the Lakers always play with that in mind during those games, so maybe we’ve yet to see their full force. Fair enough.

        On to the Spurs. I’m sure this is not news to you, but I don’t think people understand the scope of it – the Spurs are an ENTIRELY different team than the ones from years past. They’ve always built their offense around Duncan, but now that he’s going gray, their transition to guard-dominated sets and a quicker pace has been the other piece of the pie they needed to add on to a perennially sound defensive capability (not quite what it used to be, but up there). We shoot the 3 better than anybody, and yes, often live/die by it. I’ve never seen the Spurs accomplish such a synthesis of 1) new blood/high energy in the likes of Hill, Splitter, Blair, hell even Bonner and Novak, and 2) the veteran leadership/skill of our Big 3 who have been able to coast along on limited minutes as we enjoy the reg. season lead we built up on the West. The age argument is only valid in terms of health – if Duncan recovers properly for the playoffs, and Manu, Tony, Dice, etc stay healthy, they’ll be fine. Popovich has noticed the same trend that you have and has adjusted his late-season tactics to avoid letting the machine break apart and grind to a halt. Up until a couple of weeks ago with Tim and Tony both going down, we were the healthiest starting 5 in the league. Don’t fall back on the age argument, you’ll begin to sound like Jalen and all the other ESPN clowns who don’t do their homework and use vague, outdated perceptions of teams to make broad, sweeping…anyways.

        Saying that you don’t believe in them b/c they got bounced out of the playoffs for 3 consecutive years is like saying, “I busted the last 3 times I hit on 12 – NEVER hitting on 12 again!” I think the Spurs pull that 9 out of their back pocket this year, and grit out a 7-game victory over the Lakeshow in the WCF.

        Posted by Jenkins | April 5, 2011, 8:37 am
  11. if we aren’t including the spurs, then by the same logic, we CANNOT include the Heat! they are 0-3 against the bulls and have no chance of beating them in the playoffs.

    Posted by Joe | April 7, 2011, 3:41 pm

Post a comment