I tinker with stats. I won't tell you how I come to these stats because there's no point in that. I also have no idea how accurate these stats are going to be in predicting the outcome of the playoffs. I'll just say they're somewhat similar to the stats I've used to project playoffs the last two years and those numbers were quite accurate.
So what follows are the nine teams with the best shot at winning the playoffs, their projected record, their chances of winning it all, and what their biggest obstacles are to winning the title.
9. San Antonio Spurs (49-33)
San Antonio has been incredibly bad against good teams. And I mean incredibly bad. They are the worst of the elite team against playoff trending teams and against elite teams. A team that cannot even compete against the best teams has no shot at winning the trophy.
Chances of winning: 0.7%
8. Orlando Magic (49-33)
The Magic have struggled with injuries. Among the nine teams on the list, they have the worst health (yes, worth than Portland in all the ways that matter) to this point in the season. When they have been at full strength, the team is a pedestrian 15-11. They are simply a worse team than last season, and if they cannot become healthy and gel soon, they will face an early exit from the playoffs.
Chances of winning: 2.0%
7. Boston Celtics (53-29)
The Celtics have had relatively good health, but arguably their best player has been the most frequently absent from the lineup. When KG is in the lineup, they are 22-7. They have been pretty good against playoff teams, but have not been able to take it to the next level against the elite teams. Really, KG's health is the biggest question mark for this team, by far.
Chances of winning: 4.2%
6. Portland Trailblazers (50-32)
The Blazers are young, have had a lot of flux in their lineup, but have played well with any group of starters, really. They seem to be a better team without some of their "starters" in fact. Still, they have failed to establish themselves as ready to compete against the very best. They have won only half of their games against the top teams. We all know that you must win more than 50% of your games against the best team in order to win the title.
Chances of winning: 4.4%
5. Dallas Mavericks (54-28)
The Mavs have been hot of late. Moreover, they have been good against playoff teams and very good against the elite teams. They were a tough playoff series away from facing the Lakers in the WCF last season. They have a good chance of finding themselves in a similar position this season. I suppose the knock on Dallas is that, while they're a good team that plays consistently well, they do not have the "wow" factor and the ability to dominate as the top four teams do.
Chances of winning: 6.2%
4. Atlanta Hawks (53-29)
The Hawks started out hot, have been consistently good against both playoff teams and the elite teams. They have had good fortune with health, and have the third best record against elite teams. That means they can hang with anyone. That is why they are the team with the second best chances of making it to the Finals from the Eastern bracket. They are not the top team in the East because they are not the Cavaliers.
Chances of winning: 6.6%
3. Los Angeles Lakers (61-21)
To be honest, it hurts to place the Lakers here, but it is the right place for them to be. Overall, the Lakers have the best record in basketball and have played very well against the playoff teams. They have really struggled against the elite teams, however. That is troublesome. It remains an issue even when you factor in the Lakers' 21-4 record with Pau Gasol (the best record for a team at full strength in the NBA). Two blowout losses to Cleveland this season and a grueling series against Denver last season suggest that if the Lakers do not enter the playoffs at full strength, they will not advance to the Finals, much less hoist the trophy.
Chances of winning: 7.7%
2. Denver Nuggets (56-26)
Denver has not played its best ball against non playoff teams. The Nuggest have, however, risen to the occasion against good teams. They have the best record against both playoff teams and elite teams. They have the second best record in the West when at full strength. They are legitimate threats to do what they nearly did last season: overthrow the Lakers.
Chances of winning: 15.8%
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (61-21)
The Cavaliers have been good against everyone, posting a top three record overall, in their last ten games, against playoff teams, and against the elite teams of the league. If they can remain healthy, they should be able to chug past Boston and Atlanta to earn a trip to the Finals. Make no mistake about it: this is James's team, but it is Shaquille O'Neal who makes this team the best playoff team.
Chances of winning: 52.4%