Cohen: Tiebreaker Analysis

By Josh Cohen
March 10, 2011

ORLANDO -- It’s possibly the most hilarious sketch and dialogue I have ever seen or heard in a movie. It’s from the generally underrated, but always comical, film “BASEketball” starring the South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

It’s during the scene when sports anchors Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne are elucidating various postseason scenarios that will determine advancement in the inexhaustible league tournament.

From time to time, I enjoy applying this same analytical and mathematical approach to resolve an actual professional team’s playoff position.

For instance, here is what I formulated for the Orlando Magic and their quest to capture their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title and also earn a top three seed in the postseason:

With Wednesday’s victory in Sacramento, the Magic need to win 13 of their final 17 games to have a greater than 50 percent chance of winning the division and surpassing the Heat in the standings. That is unless Miami can also lose unexpectedly to either Washington or Charlotte or if Atlanta can sweep the final two remaining games against the Heat. Also, if Orlando can win its remaining games against playoff contending teams such as New York, Philadelphia and Indiana, it would increase its chances by 20 percent of having the tiebreaker advantage over Miami. Additionally, if the Hawks, Knicks and 76ers somehow end up in a three-way tie, it would be total madness trying to calculate who earns the higher seed. And if Chicago can beat Boston in April, it would have a greater than 80 percent chance of holding a tiebreaker over the Celtics.

Some of you out there are probably laughing at this, others raising their eyebrows in total bewilderment and few reading this have already clicked on something else on

That is acceptable and explicable.

Trying to figure out various circumstances – whether it’s potential playoff seedings, matchups or tiebreaker advantages – is what causes sports freaks to be teased and ridiculed by others who probably have a lot more productive things to do in their lives.

But come on people, we all know we get caught up in trying to forecast the future, especially when it relates to our favorite sports teams.

Nonetheless, I decided to analyze a few of the essential possible tiebreakers that may come up at season’s end, especially those that would have an influence on the Magic.

Josh Cohen


Miami currently has a 2.5 game edge on Orlando in the standings, but the Magic have a legitimate opportunity to catch the Heat in the next week.

While the Magic play a much softer schedule against teams like the Warriors, Suns, Bucks and Nuggets over the next week, the Heat have to contend with upper echelon opponents like the Lakers, Thunder, Spurs and Hawks. Orlando will also play L.A. in this stretch, however.

Since Orlando and Miami split their season series (2-2), the tiebreaker will likely come down to either division record or conference record. Presently, the Heat have a ½ game edge on the Magic in division performance, but Miami has two games remaining in Atlanta while Orlando just has one more trip to the Peach State.

Assuming the Magic and Heat win their respective remaining games against both the Bobcats and Wizards, if Miami falls in both of its meetings in Atlanta and Orlando wins in its visit, the Magic would hold the tiebreaker advantage.

On the other hand, if somehow their ultimate division records equal out, the next stage would be to evaluate their records against the rest of the Eastern Conference. If that ends up in a tie as well, then we would need to analyze their records against other playoff teams in the conference.

Already it is safe to conclude that Orlando has a far better record than Miami against those opponents.


The reason I am analyzing these two teams is because there is a strong chance Orlando will play one of them in the First Round of the playoffs.

In addition to having a 2.5 game edge on New York, Atlanta split its season series with the Knicks and presently has a better record against opponents in the Southeast Division than the Knicks do against squads in the Atlantic.

However, the Hawks do still have three games remaining combined against the Heat and Magic.


Similar to why I analyzed the Hawks and Knicks, the 76ers are also a potential First Round opponent of the Magic.

Presently, New York has a 1.5 game lead on Philly for the No. 6 seed, but the Sixers hold a 2-1 series advantage. The two teams play again in a final meeting in April. As a result, if the 76ers win that game, they hold the tiebreaker. If not, the Knicks would be in the driver’s seat since they currently have a better division record.


This is important for Orlando since it may determine whom the Magic would pair up with in the conference semifinals should they advance.

Boston has a 2-1 edge over Chicago in their season series and play in one more battle in April. If the Bulls manage to win that game, things will get very interesting. If it comes down to who has the better record against teams in their division, presently the advantage goes to Chicago since it is a perfect 12-0 versus Central Division rivals. Boston, however, is 10-1 against teams in the Atlantic Division.

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Do you think the Magic will catch the Heat in the standings and end up winning the division?

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