Discussing John Hollinger’s NBA playoff odds

Like most basketball fans, my attention at this time of the year has a tendency to be focused squarely on March Madness, but there’s this little thing called the NBA regular season that is still going on (who knew?) and there are several teams involved a heated race for the playoffs that start in mid-April.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ESPN’s John Hollinger says that there are six Eastern Conference teams that have better than a 99% chance of earning a playoff spot this year: Cleveland, Boston, Orlando and Atlanta, who are all at 100%, along with Miami and Philadelphia.

Right now, Hollinger gives the Bulls (90%) and the Pistons (89%) the inside track for the last two spots in the East. There are four teams — Charlotte (9%), Indiana (7%), New Jersey (5%) and Milwaukee (3%) — that are varying degrees of longshots to earn a final spot. They’re sitting at 30 or 31 wins, three or four wins behind Chicago or Detroit, so with about 10 games remaining, it’s conceivable that the Bulls or Pistons could collapse and one or more of these teams could get hot.

I feel bad for my beloved Bucks. Once again, injuries derail an otherwise promising season. They have 31 wins despite losing their best player (Michael Redd) for much of the season and losing their second- or third-best player (Andrew Bogut) for the last six or seven weeks. If that duo stays healthy, the Bucks aren’t a serious contender, but they’d be safely in the playoffs at this point.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

This looks like a game of musical chairs. There are four teams — Portland, Utah, New Orleans and Dallas — who are all close to locking up the last four spots in the West, but Hollinger still gives the Suns, who are three games back of Dallas with 11 to play, a 31% chance of earning a playoff spot. Lately, the Suns are doing all they can; they’ve won six straight, but lost six straight before that run.

Unfortunately for the Suns, seven of their last 11 games are on the road. The good news is that they play each of the four teams they are chasing, so if they can stay hot, they’ve got a shot. (Wow, that totally rhymed. Shaq would be proud.) Six of the Suns’ remaining games are against teams they should beat — Sacramento and Memphis twice, along with Golden State and Minnesota — so if the Suns can put together a 9-2 or 10-1 finish, they’ll be in pretty good shape.

The Mavs have eight “tough” games remaining, so if they go 6-5 and lose to the Suns on April 5th, they could be in trouble. The good news is that Dallas only has four road games remaining. The Hornets have eight road games left and close the season with a brutal stretch — Utah, @ Miami, Phoenix, @ Dallas, Dallas, @ Houston and @ San Antonio. They also have the Spurs this Sunday at home.

Barring a meltdown, the Blazers should be safe. They have Memphis and Oklahoma City twice and the Clippers once. If they can get those five wins and two or three others (against Phoenix, Utah, Houston, San Antonio, Denver or the L.A. Lakers), they should be in business. The Jazz have four games they should win — New York, Minnesota, Golden State and the Clippers, all at home — intermixed with a pretty tough road schedule.

The bottom line is that the Suns put themselves into position to poach a playoff spot with their six-game winning streak, so none of the four aforementioned teams can afford to coast to the finish line. We’ll know a lot more on Thursday and Saturday, when Phoenix travels to Portland and Utah, respectively. If they drop both games, it’s going to put them in a tough spot and the other playoff teams can probably breathe a little easier.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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