Quick Thoughts

1.    Bulls/Raptors Race:    As we mercifully close in on the playoffs, there are very few questions left to be answered.  Except for seeding issues, the playoffs teams are virtually set.  The only race is the not so close race between the Bulls and the Raptors for the eight seed in the East.  The Raptors lead the race by 1.5 games (Toronto is 37-37 with 8 games left to play, while the Bulls are 36-39 with 7 games left).  The Raptors hold the tie breaker and ESPN’s playoff odds give the Bulls roughly a 10% shot of catching Toronto.  

The Bulls aren’t looking good but might their odds be a little better than 10%?  The playoff odds machine looks at past history for calculating the likelihood of future outcomes.  At this point in the season, however, the good teams may be resting the stars and the bad teams could be in outright tank mode.  So, let’s look a little closer and see what the teams have going forward to see if there is more hope for the Bulls:

Bulls Schedule

-4/3:  Charlotte

-4/6:  Milwaukee

-4/8:  Cleveland

-4/9:  @ New Jersey

-4/11: @ Toronto

-4/13: Boston

-4/14: @Charlotte 

Raptors Schedule

-4/3:  @Philadelphia

-4/4:  Golden State

-4/6:  @Cleveland

-4/7:  Boston

-4/9:  @Atlanta

-4/11: Chicago

-4/12: @Detroit

-4/14:  New York 

Chicago’s schedule features only a few gimmies.  Milwaukee and Charlotte are in a race to get to the six seed, which is a key seed as that team avoids certain death against Orlando and instead gets a decent shot at upset against Atlanta or Boston.  Boston also has some incentive to play hard in order to stay out of the four seed and Cleveland in round two (assuming Boston can even beat the whomever gets the five seed).  The schedule shows, however, that the Bulls have exactly one easy win (New Jersey) and the hope that the Cavs stop playing their stars for the rest of the regular season.  

Toronto has a bit easier road with Philly, Golden State, Detroit, and New York on the schedule.  Toronto also has common opponents with Chicago of Boston and Cleveland.  Boston and Cleveland might pack it in and rest there stars until the playoffs but there will be no benefit to  Toronto or Chicago because the teams will get the same easy common opponent.  So looking at the schedules closely, the Bulls look to be in quite serious trouble and the odds machine is absolutely correct.  The only road here for the Bulls is to beat Toronto head-to-head on April 11th and hope that the Raps have a really bad loss to one or two non-playoff teams as well.  At the very least, the Toronto/Chicago game will be the last meaningful game of the regular season. 

2.    More Eight Seed Stuff:    Out West, there is no eight seed race at all.  Currently, the Grizz are the nine seed and are 6.5 games out.  It seemed to me quite rare to have a nine seed so far out of the playoff picture.  This is a function of how good the top eight are in the West but I was wondering how close a nine seed typically comes to the playoffs.  For fun, here’s the list of how close the nine seed was to the eight seed each season since the NBA went to the expanded playoff format in 1983-84 (the numbers below represent how many games out the nine seed was from the eight):           

Season    East    West

1983-84     7           1

1984-85     2           5

1985-86     1           3

1986-87     9           1

1987-88     0*         3

1988-89     2           1

1989-90     1           4

1990-91     6          10  

1991-92     0*         1

1992-93     0*         3

1993-94     1           9

1994-95     1           2

1995-96     1           3

1996-97     2           2

1997-98     1          14

1998-99     1           0*

1999-00     1           4

2000-01     5           2

2001-02     1           5

2002-03     5           1

2003-04     1           1

2004-05     0*         1

2005-06     2           3

2006-07     5           2

2007-08     1           2

2008-09     3           2 

*Denotes that the nine seed tied the eight seed in record but lost in the tie-breaker. 

As can be seen above, the Grizz’s spread 6.5 game spread from the eight seed is rare but not super rare, as we’ve seen a five game spread every other year this decade. Interestingly, there are quite a few huge spreads (1997-98, 1990-91, 1986-87).  These huge spreads are usually due to some truly awful bottom teams in those conference.  Indeed, the 1997-98 eight seeded Rockets were only 41-41 but the nine seed Kings were a poor 27-55 and the West featured five teams with 20 wins or less (including the 11-win Nuggets and the 17-win Clipps).

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