Cohen: Tiebreaker Analysis

By Josh Cohen
March 28, 2012


ORLANDO -- While coaches and players are busy scouting and preparing for opponents, I, on the other hand, am surveying the standings and assessing most favorable playoff possibilities.

With the trade deadline in the rear view mirror and with teams gearing up for May and June, our attention and interest is on potential postseason matchups.

You see, it’s easy to discount the importance of a “flattering” and “encouraging” playoff landscape. Some would argue that it doesn’t matter who you play; if you want to be the best you have to beat the best anyway.

Well, the NBA is not that straightforward. Who a team matches up with in a seven-game series can have a mammoth influence on the success they have.

Last season, for example, it was very evident that Atlanta was an ominous opponent for Orlando to meet up with in the First Round. The Hawks had defeated the Magic in three of the four regular season matchups and it wasn’t a secret that Atlanta’s backcourt – consisting of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford – was inauspicious considering their blend of speed, size and shooting ability.

It’s very possible if the Magic had faced a different opponent in the First Round – let’s say the Sixers who Orlando had dominated in last year’s regular season – they would have advanced far into the playoffs.

While coaches and players will relentlessly deny it, trust me, they definitely pay attention to the standings and do have preferences on who they are required to see in the postseason.

Last year, there was indisputably some internal celebration when the bracket was finalized and the Magic were positioned to play the Bulls in the conference semifinals rather than the Heat or Celtics if they surpassed the opening round. Unfortunately, because the First Round wasn’t so favorable to Orlando, it never got the opportunity to take advantage of its arrangement.

There is one month and between 15 and 18 games left for each team in the NBA in this compressed, fast-paced season.

Tiebreakers, which may be significant to determine final playoff seeds, are starting to formulate. Here is some Eastern Conference seed-by-seed analysis based on mathematical likelihood of certain teams being able to capture specific seeds and which clubs would or most likely earn the tiebreaker based on head-to-head advantage.

Of course, since there are still plenty of games remaining, much could still change when it comes to seeding if there are noteworthy successes or collapses down the stretch of the season.

#1 Seed – Chicago or Miami (Bulls currently with 3.5 game lead)
Tiebreaker: TBD; the Bulls and Heat have split their first two meetings and still play two more times in April. If they were to split those two games as well, the tiebreaker will depend on conference record, which presently favors Chicago.

#2 Seed – Miami or Orlando (Heat currently with 4.0 game lead)
Tiebreaker: TBD; the Heat and Magic are finished playing each other this regular season and they split their four meetings. Miami has the early advantage to win a tiebreaker since they presently have a better division record.

#3 Seed – Orlando, Indiana or Atlanta (Magic currently with 2.0 game lead over Pacers and 2.5 game lead over Hawks)
ORL-IND Tiebreaker: Orlando; the Magic won the season series against the Pacers, 3-1
ORL-ATL Tiebreaker: Atlanta; the Hawks have already won two games against the Magic and they have just one meeting left
IND-ATL Tiebreaker: Atlanta; the Hawks won the season series against the Pacers, 2-1
ORL-IND-ATL Tiebreaker: Atlanta; the Hawks will have the best winning percentage in all games among the tied teams

#4 Seed – Philadelphia, Boston or New York (Sixers currently with 0.5 lead over Celtics and 3.0 lead over Knicks for division crown)
PHI-BOS Tiebreaker: Philadelphia; the Sixers have won the first two meetings against the Celtics and they play just one more time
PHI-NYK Tiebreaker: New York; the Knicks won the season series against the Sixers, 2-1
BOS-NYK Tiebreaker: TBD; if the Celtics beat the Knicks in their final meeting in April, they will own the tiebreaker. If New York wins, it will come down to either division or conference record, which still likely favors Boston
PHI-BOS-NYK Tiebreaker: TBD; It's still up in the air which team would have the best winning percentage in all games among the tied teams

#5 Seed – Indiana, Atlanta or Orlando
ORL-IND Tiebreaker: Orlando; the Magic won the season series against the Pacers, 3-1
ORL-ATL Tiebreaker: Atlanta; the Hawks have already won two games against the Magic and they have just one meeting left
IND-ATL Tiebreaker: Atlanta; the Hawks won the season series against the Pacers, 2-1
ORL-IND-ATL Tiebreaker: Atlanta; the Hawks will have the best winning percentage in all games among the tied teams

#6 Seed – Indiana, Atlanta, Philadelphia, or Boston
IND-ATL Tiebreaker: Atlanta; the Hawks won the season series against the Pacers, 2-1
IND-PHI Tiebreaker: TBD; the Pacers and Sixers have split their first two games and play each other two more times in April.
IND-BOS Tiebreaker: TBD; the Pacers and Celtics split their first two games and they play one more time in April. The winner of that game will get the tiebreaker.
ATL-PHI Tiebreaker: Philadelphia; the Sixers won the first two meetings and they play just once more.
ATL-BOS Tiebreaker: TBD; the Celtics won the first meeting and they play twice more in April.
PHI-BOS Tiebreaker: Philadelphia; the Sixers have won the first two meetings against the Celtics and they play just one more time

#7 Seed – Philadelphia, Boston or New York
PHI-BOS Tiebreaker: Philadelphia; the Sixers have won the first two meetings against the Celtics and they play just one more time against each other
PHI-NYK Tiebreaker: New York; the Knicks won the season series against the Sixers, 2-1
BOS-NYK Tiebreaker: TBD; if the Celtics beat the Knicks in their final meeting in April, they will own the tiebreaker. If New York wins, it will come down to either division or conference record, which still likely favors Boston
PHI-BOS-NYK Tiebreaker: TBD; It's still unknown which team would have the best winning percentage in all games among the tied teams

#8 Seed – New York or Milwaukee (Knicks currently with 2.0 game lead over Bucks for final playoff spot)
Tiebreaker: TBD; if the Bucks win the final meeting in April, they will own the tiebreaker since they have won two of the first three games against one another. If New York wins, the Knicks sit in the driver’s seat considering they have a much better conference record up until this point.

Who do you want the Magic to play in the First Round of the playoffs?
Who do you want the Magic to play in the First Round of the playoffs?
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