NBA Preview — Professional March Madness

Here’s a few storylines that have flipped upside down since earlier in the year

Credit; FiveThirtyEight

It’s been a wild ride in the NBA this season. Especially recently, as San Antonio has pulled within a half game of Golden State, the Miami Heat have muscled their way into a playoff spot, and the Wizards have turned in one of the best second-half performances in recent memory. So even if the NBA lacks the insane, single-elimination tournament found in the NCAA, there’s plenty of craziness to entertain fans this month.

Let’s start with the Miami Heat. FiveThirtyEight gives the Heat a 74% chance of making the playoffs. They’re projected to finish 41–41, a mark that is truly insane given how much they struggled earlier on. In terms of the site’s ELO ranking, Miami is ahead of Toronto right now (also insane). One can question the true “accuracy” of the model — it looks like Cleveland is pretty clearly undervalued in it—but the fact that Miami has been essentially as good as the Raptors over the last month or so is remarkable. The Heat’s positive point differential is also pretty amazing.

The Wizards’ turnaround is also surprising. If you had told me that Washington would be in second place in the East during March, I would have doubted you. I probably would have laughed at you if you had told me this while they were in the midst of their awful start to the season. But here they are, unquestionably one of the league’s best teams. This is another case where the ELO model might be overvaluing them (they aren’t as good as Cleveland), but FiveThirtyEight isn’t off by much in my opinion. The Wizards’ rise could make for some very entertaining playoff series.

Finally, there’s the Spurs. They were always there, always breathing down the Warriors’ neck, but they’re finally closing the gap after last night’s blowout. It’s going to be very difficult to catch up to Golden State without LaMarcus Aldridge, but a half-game lead (the current margin) can’t feel very safe right now for the Warriors. If I had to choose one team to finish in first place, I don’t know which one I’d pick. That alone might say enough about how tight this finish could be.

Predictions

1–0 last nigh, 5–5 for the week. With two games today, I have a chance to pull out a winning finish.

ABC—Chicago at Boston: Boston

Ever since everyone declared that the sky was falling in Chicago, the Bulls have been quietly fine. They’re in 10th place right now, but only a game behind the Bucks for the eighth seed. Essentially, the Bulls aren’t out of it yet. However, it’s going to be hard for this team to get a win in Boston. Even if they aren’t the second-best team in the East, they’re right there with Washington. I expect a Celtics victory this afternoon.

NBA TV—Miami at Indiana: Miami

The Heat are 8–2 over their last 10 games; while the Pacers are 4–6. Conventional wisdom might tell me to pick the team with a better record and home-court advantage, but the Heat might actually be better than the Pacers. Besides, without a crazy, last-second shot against Atlanta a week ago, the Pacers would be 3–7 for their last 10. They’re a comfortable playoff team, but Miami is playing at a higher level right now.

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