So 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
schedule 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…