Cohen: Forecasting Magic's Potential Playoff Matchups

By Josh Cohen
March 1, 2011


ORLANDO -- There are still plenty of games left in the regular season, but few enough to start calculating and projecting potential playoff matchups for the Orlando Magic.

It remains a mystery, logically, who the Magic may pair up with in the First Round of the playoffs and later rounds should they advance.

Since the Eastern Conference is so competitive this season after all of the transactions that were made last summer as well as those prior to the trade deadline, the playoffs will be, indisputably, electrifying and cutthroat.

Unlike years past on March 1 when it was more unambiguous who would be playing who in the postseason, this season it is very murky.

As a result, I decided to conduct some statistical and scientific research to determine whom Orlando may end up seeing in the playoffs.

My data is based on a variety of mathematical applications, including strength of schedule the rest of the season, recent performance and team expectations.

In addition to forecasting potential First Round matchups, I also evaluated who the Magic may square off against in the conference semifinals should they advance.

After estimating the results, I stamped a percentage on how likely it is for Orlando to play that opponent in either the First Round or subsequent round of the playoffs.


FIRST ROUND

1) 67% - Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks possess a outwardly cushion over both the Knicks and 76ers for the No. 5 seed and still appear to be a threat to catch the Magic for the No. 4 spot in the standings.

However, when you examine Atlanta’s schedule the rest of the way, the chances of them securing at minimum the No. 5 seed seem to diminish. While most of their remaining games are at home, their competition is among the best in the NBA.

For instance, the Hawks’ next six games include contests against the Bulls, Thunder, Knicks, Lakers, Bulls again and the Blazers.

Also a pending factor is the recent knee injury to Josh Smith, who sprained his MCL in Denver on Monday.

2) 22% - New York Knicks

Most NBA analysts presume the Knicks are better now than they were before completing the Carmelo Anthony trade last week. Already knocking off the Heat in Miami, New York has a moderate schedule the rest of the way.

Including Tuesday’s showdown at Amway Center, the Knicks and Magic play three times in March. They also have to travel to Dallas to face the scorching Mavericks. But outside of those matchups, New York will challenge much of the weaker competition in March, including two games against the Pacers and another two against the Grizzlies.

If Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups can develop instant chemistry, it’s very possible – in spite of being 4.5 back – for the Knicks to catch the Hawks for the No. 5 seed.

If not, there is still a chance Orlando can climb up to the No. 3 seed and play New York should it remain at No. 6.

3) 11% - Philadelphia 76ers

Winners of four straight and 27-16 since beginning the season 3-13, the 76ers have transformed into a formidable club.

After initial assumptions that Philadelphia would ultimately try to trade Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand, the Sixers, instead, are thankful they did not detonate their roster. Head Coach Doug Collins is a serious contender for Coach of the Year honors and Jrue Holiday is a possible candidate for the Most Improved award.

Similar to the Knicks, the 76ers have a moderate schedule the rest of the season. While they will play against a fair number of the more inferior teams in the league, the Sixers still have away games against Chicago, Miami and Boston remaining.

Currently 5.5 back of Atlanta, it would take a major collapse by the Hawks and a stupendous finish by Philly or an incredible surge by Orlando and a deflation from Chicago, Miami or Boston for somehow the Sixers and Magic to compete against each other in the First Round.

Josh Cohen



CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS

1) 37% - Boston Celtics

Basically, the most likely scenario is that the Magic will end up as the No. 4 seed in the East and should they advance past the First Round, they will probably collide with the No. 1 seed (unless there is a miracle upset).

It’s practically impossible to forecast whom between Boston, Miami and Chicago will ultimately finish with the best record in the conference, but the Celtics do have a major advantage in that they own the tiebreaker over the Heat and still have a two-game edge on the Bulls.

The Celtics, in addition, have a very favorable schedule in March. Their only seemingly challenging road games are showdowns with the Knicks on March 21 and Spurs on March 31.

It remains a mystery, however, if Boston will experience any digression following the Kendrick Perkins trade last week. The Celtics just finished a West Coast trip with wins over both the Clippers and Jazz after losing to the Nuggets prior to that.

2) 30% - Chicago Bulls

Every time you think the Bulls will come back down to earth, they reel off several more victories. Derrick Rose has been phenomenal, the signing of Carlos Boozer was practically brilliant and the decision to not trade Joakim Noah or Luol Deng for Carmelo when it was proposed seems to have been the right decision.

After this week’s stretch of games that include away contests against the Hawks, Magic and Heat, the Bulls – like the Celtics – have a fairly simplistic schedule the rest of the way.

They also own the tiebreaker over Miami and could have the tiebreaker over Boston should they prevail in their final meeting with the C’s on April 7 at home.

Some analysts believe that the Magic’s hope is that the Bulls finish as the No. 1 seed because Chicago appears less formidable in a seven-game series than both Boston and Miami. If Orlando can play Chicago in the conference semis that would likely allow the Celtics and Heat to tear each other’s hair out prior to the conference finals.

3) 28% - Miami Heat

Just like I emphasized about the Hawks’ schedule, the Heat play against some of the toughest competition in March.

Although most of them are at home, Miami will compete against Orlando, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Chicago and the L.A. Lakers over the next couple of weeks.

Currently just one game back of Boston for the top spot (which actually equals to two since the Celtics own the tiebreaker with their 3-0 record against the Heat), Miami will likely need a finish that resembles what they accomplished in December to guarantee themselves the No. 1 seed.

Most Magic fans are hoping that Orlando plays Miami in the playoffs to boost the Sunshine State rivalry. The most likely scenario, however, is that they would have to pair up in the conference finals for them to meet in the postseason.

4) 5% - Other

There is a monumental upset in the First Round of the playoffs every once in a while. For instance, it was totally unexpected when Golden State stunned Dallas in 2007 and it almost was just as remarkable when Denver eliminated Seattle in 1994.

The only logical scenario in which Orlando would not play either Boston, Miami or Chicago in the conference semifinals is if the Magic climb up the standings, still avoid the Knicks in the First Round and somehow New York eradicates either the C’s, Heat or Bulls in the First Round.

It’s possible that Orlando could be the No. 3 seed, New York No. 7 and then whomever is No. 2 could get upset by the Knicks.

It’s also not absurd for the 76ers to pull off a mammoth upset in the opening round.


It’s practically unfeasible to forecast who the Magic could play in the NBA Finals should they advance that far. Obviously, San Antonio, Dallas and the defending two-time NBA champion L.A. Lakers are the main contenders to reach the Finals from the West.

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Who do you hope the Magic play in the First Round of the playoffs?
Who do you hope the Magic play in the First Round of the playoffs?
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Who do you hope the Magic play in the conference semifinals should they advance?
Who do you hope the Magic play in the conference semifinals should they advance?
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