But here’s another idea: How about we just stick to following the Lakers instead? The Cavs are currently tied for 6th in the lottery standings. At the moment, only 3.5 games separate the 3rd and 11th teams. But most likely, the Cavs will situate themselves somewhere in the 5-8 range. Not a whole lot of room for drastic changes.
Then, there’s Los Angeles. The Lakers are now 14-6 in their last 20 games. They’ve finally roared back to .500 and the playoff picture, especially with their miraculous win Wednesday night over the Pelicans (nee Hornets).
As a friendly reminder, if the Lakers make the playoffs, the Cavaliers will swap their current possession of Miami’s first-round pick (28-30 range) with LA’s (15-16 range). This doesn’t happen if LA ends up in the lottery — Phoenix would then own their pick. So this would be a pretty big bonus for Cleveland if it occurs.
Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz, the new No. 8 team in the West and the most likely contender to slip out if LA slips in1, are struggling. They collapsed at the last minute against the Cavs on Wednesday night (double whammy of goodness) and are fading to the tune of 1-5 in their last 6 games.
So how do these two teams’ remaining schedules add up? Let’s take a look at some quick peripheral numbers:
The above table breaks down in general the remaining games for these two teams. P/L shows Playoffs/Lottery, then there’s a Home/Road breakdown of those two splits as well. Obviously, the Lakers have more of their difficult games at home and the Jazz have more of their difficult games on the road. Here are some more advanced stats:
The first column is standard Strength of Schedule: opponent winning percentage. Then, I had a simple H/R win percentage, where I just took the opponent team’s home or road record, depending on the location of the game. John Hollinger ranking average and SRS ranking average are then the final two numbers.
So quite clearly, the Lakers have the edge in terms of the slightly more favorable closing schedule. Will they pull it off and make up the final 1.5 games? Entering Thursday, Hollinger’s playoff odds had the Jazz at 57.2% odds to make the playoffs, the Lakers at 52.6%2, their highest in several weeks at least. So it’s practically a toss-up at this point.
It should be fun to watch. And for fans craving daily draft lottery news — this might be the more fruitful (and less polarizing) chase to follow in the final five weeks of the NBA season.
Playoff picture: LA is 1.5 games behind Utah and 2.0 games behind No. 7 Houston. But the Rockets are one of the most fun teams in the league, with one of its hottest offenses. They’re 11-7 in their last 18 games. So that’s why they’re being ignored and I’m picking on the Jazz. [↩]
Clearly, with simple math, that adds up to 109.8%, not 100%. That just reflects the slight uncertainty that exists with the playoff hopes of Houston and No. 6 Golden State. But more likely than not, it will be Utah and the Lakers down the stretch. [↩]
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.