Wednesday, June 4, 2014

NBA Season Review and Finals Prediction

In the preseason, I predicted each team's regular season record and how far each would advance in the playoffs in a post you can see here. Just as with my NFL preview, I correctly predicted the two teams that would eventually meet in the championship before the season began. I also had quite a bit of success picking playoff teams and overall records, and some of the results are below:

Eastern Conference Playoff Teams

I correctly predicted 7 of the 8 teams that would make the playoffs in the East, including both Toronto and Washington, who had missed the playoffs the year before. I correctly predicted that Boston and Milwaukee would miss the playoffs after qualifying the season before, but incorrectly picked New York to make the playoffs rather than Charlotte.

Western Conference Playoff Teams

I also picked 7 of the 8 Western Conference playoff teams correctly, including Portland taking the place of the LA Lakers, which was not a very popular pick by the experts. My lone miss in the West was Dallas making the playoffs instead of the Nuggets, who fell apart in the middle of the season, while Dallas sneaked in during the final week of the season.

Eastern Conference Surprise

The Charlotte Bobcats won 43 games this season, 22 more than the season before, and 15 more than my original prediction. Al Jefferson had his best season since the lockout-shortened season in 2009, back when he was still in Minnesota, and his improvement was the biggest reason that Charlotte made the playoffs in their final season as the Bobcats.

Eastern Conference Disappointment

The Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs and even advanced through the first round, but bigger things were expected of a team that bought an All-Star-loaded roster in the offseason, racking up the biggest payroll in the league in the process. The roster was full of disappointments, with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko, Joe Johnson, and Deron Williams each having their worst seasons in over a decade and Brook Lopez spending most of the season injured.

Eastern Conference Perfect Pick

In the preseason I picked the Indiana Pacers to finish with a record of 56-26, an improvement of 7 games over last season, and they did exactly that. They actually did a little better in the postseason than I had picked, making it to the Conference Finals before losing, rather than losing in the second round, as I thought before the season.

Western Conference Surprise

The Phoenix Suns won 48 games, tying the record for most wins without making the playoffs, and they weren't eliminated from contention until the final week of the season, which was much different than my preseason prediction, which had them winning only 17 games and being eliminated by the All-Star break. It certainly helps when you have 3 of the top 10 vote-getters for Most Improved Player on the roster, as well as the runner-up for Coach of the Year on the bench.

Western Conference Disappointment

Denver did not perform well under rookie head coach Brian Shaw, much like Brooklyn under Jason Kidd. Andre Miller's blowup at the coach during their long mid-season losing streak was the lowlight, other than the fact that they missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, right after letting George Karl go as coach. Ty Lawson continues to improve, but when journeyman Randy Foye is your second-best player, you know you have problems.

Western Conference Perfect Pick

I predicted that the LA Clippers would win 59 games and take the #2 seed in the Western Conference this season, and I was only slightly off in that pick. The ended up with 57 wins and a #3 seed, but they still lost in the second round, just as I had picked. They are making steady improvement, and with a likely change of ownership coming this summer, they could become an even more enticing destination for free agents.

NBA Finals Prediction

In the preseason, I picked the Miami Heat to score a repeat victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals. I am slightly modifying that prediction now, with the games getting ready to start tomorrow. My official prediction for this season's NBA champion is:

Spurs over Heat in 5 games.

The Spurs will win both home games to open the series, after which Miami will take game 3 at their arena, but San Antonio will close it out with a road win in game 4 and will finish off the series at home in game 5, the first time in 30 years that the format will be changed to allow the team with the better record to play game 5 at home. The Finals MVP voting will be close for the first time in years, with Tim Duncan nabbing his 4th postseason MVP award over Tony Parker.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

NBA Playoff Odds and MVP Rankings - 17 May

We are down to 4 teams in the NBA Playoffs, and for the first time since 2005, the top 2 seeds in each conference made the conference finals. The Spurs have held the highest odds of winning the title for most of the postseason, and after dismantling the Trail Blazers 4-1, not much has changed there. Here are the current odds of each team moving on and winning the title, as well as my picks for the Playoff MVP so far:

Odds of Making NBA Finals

1. Spurs - 77.6% (+10.2)
2. Heat - 74.5% (+4.3)
3. Pacers - 25.5% (+7.6)
4. Thunder - 22.4% (+4.9)

The Clippers had been a stronger team than Oklahoma City for the past couple months, so when the Thunder finished off LA it helped the Spurs odds, since they won't have to face their toughest possible opponent in this round. Miami never had a tough opponent to face, but the Wizards looked like a team that could challenge them until the Pacers regained consciousness.

Odds of Winning NBA Championship

1. Spurs - 70.1% (+13.0)
2. Thunder - 16.6% (+4.3)
3. Heat - 12.3% (-4.2)
4. Pacers - 1.0% (-0.3)

The West has never looked stronger, but you can't count out the Heat, whose rating may have been affected by the team coasting through the end of the season.

Picks

Spurs over Thunder in 5
Heat over Pacers in 5

Spurs over Heat in 4

MVP Rankings

1. (1) LeBron James - MIA - 30.0 P, 7.1 R, 4.7 A, 1.7 S, .564 FG, .366 3P, .806 FT
2. (6) Kevin Durant - OKC - 31.4 P, 9.5 R, 4.3 A, 1.4 B, .453 FG, .348 3P, .825 FT

3. (3) Russell Westbrook - OKC - 26.6 P, 8.0 R, 8.4 A, 1.7 S, .425 FG, .869 FT

4. (5) Paul George - IND - 21.9 P, 8.7 R, 3.8 A, 2.3 S, .431 FG, .418 3P, .833 FT

5. (NR) Tim Duncan - SAS - 15.8 P, 8.3 R, 1.8 A, 1.7 B, .530 FG, .732 FT

LeBron has never looked better than he has this postseason, pouring in points in bunches and shooting the lights out, by far leading the MVP contenders in field goal percentage. Miami has only lost once in the playoffs, which means the King has gotten a lot of extra rest, and with the experience of winning the last two, this award is his until he is knocked out.

After a disappointing start to the playoffs, Kevin Durant started playing like an MVP over the last 2 weeks, taking over as the playoff scoring leader and getting back his form at the free throw line, where he has made his last 23 in a row. He is averaging over 44 minutes a game this postseason, so he knows he's got to be out there to give the Thunder a chance.

Westbrook didn't play his best in the series clincher against the Clippers, making only 4 of 15 shots, but he racked up 12 assists, getting everybody else involved and helping the Thunder close out the series on the road, rather than risking a game 7 for the second straight series. Durant may be the league MVP, but Westbrook is just as important to OKC.

After splitting its two home games with Washington to open the series, many thought the Pacers had no shot to advance, with the Wizards playing two straight at home and looking strong, but Paul George didn't let that happen, averaging 31 points and 10 rebounds in two road wins that took the air out of Washington and allowed the Pacers to move on to face Miami in the conference Finals.

Tim Duncan has just been a solid presence all through this year's playoffs, but what do you expect from a 3-time Finals MVP? He's playing almost 5 minutes more per game than in the regular season, and he's increased his shooting percentage by 4 percent as well, and you know he would like to avenge his first Finals loss.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

NBA Playoff Odds - 10 May

5 more teams were sent home last weekend, leaving only 8 teams vying for this season's title, including the top 2 teams from each conference. Last week the Spurs had the best odds of winning the title, and they have done nothing since to diminish that. Here are my full current odds of each team advancing:

Odds of Making Conference Finals

1. Spurs - 97.4% (+36.7)
2. Heat - 95.8% (+25.4)
3. Pacers - 63.4% (+42.0)
4. Thunder - 61.7% (+26.2)
5. Clippers - 38.3% (-9.8)
6. Wizards - 36.6% (-34.7)
7. Nets - 4.2% (-1.1)
8. Trail Blazers - 2.6% (-24.6)

Indiana's big win at Washington last night made them the favorites to win the series for the first time, while the Spurs and Heat are in complete control right now, which has them on a collision course for a Finals rematch.

Odds of Making NBA Finals

1. Heat - 70.2% (+23.0)
2. Spurs - 67.4% (+31.6)
3. Pacers - 17.9% (+11.6)
4. Thunder - 17.5% (-0.9)
5. Clippers - 14.7% (-15.6)
6. Wizards - 10.7% (-19.4)
7. Nets - 1.3% (-0.4)

Portland is the only team left with no chance of making the Finals, which would require overcoming a 2-0 deficit against the Spurs, then a win over the Thunder or Clippers without home court advantage. It was a good run.

Odds of Winning NBA Championship

1. Spurs - 57.1% (+28.1)
2. Heat - 16.5% (+2.4)
3. Thunder - 12.3% (-1.3)
4. Clippers - 11.6% (-13.7)
5. Pacers - 1.3% (+1.3)
6. Wizards - 1.1% (-5.4)

Brooklyn, even with all their playoff experience, will not be winning the title this year, because they would have to win 4 out of 5 against the Heat, who have yet to lose this postseason.

Updated Picks

Upset picks are in italics.

Second Round

Pacers over Wizards in 6
Heat over Nets in 4
Spurs over Trail Blazers in 4
Thunder over Clippers in 6

Conference Finals

Heat over Pacers in 5
Spurs over Thunder in 5

NBA Finals

Spurs over Heat in 4

San Antonio is on a mission to avenge their first Finals loss, and sweeping the team responsible would be the perfect way to end the season.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

NBA Playoff Odds - 3 May

Three first-round series have ended so far, and the other 5 will end this weekend, which sets a record for the most game 7's in NBA history for the first round. After analyzing each team's performance over the past week and all potential matchups, here are my updated odds of each team advancing through the remaining rounds of the playoffs:

Odds of Winning First Round

1. Heat - 100.0% (+11.6)
2. Wizards - 100.0% (+30.0)
3. Trail Blazers - 100.0% (+35.9)
4. Spurs - 74.8% (+8.2)
5. Thunder - 73.8% (+31.8)
6. Clippers - 73.1% (-14.5)
7. Raptors - 70.7% (+24.2)
8. Pacers - 64.9% (+30.6)
9. Hawks - 35.1% (-30.6)
10. Nets - 29.3% (-24.2)
11. Warriors - 26.9% (+14.5)
12. Grizzlies - 26.2% (-31.8)
13. Mavericks - 25.2% (-8.2)

Damian Lillard and Portland became the third team to advance to the second round last night with an amazing buzzer-beater, the first time a player has hit a buzzer-beater to win a series since 1997, when John Stockton beat the Houston Rockets as well. 5 of these teams will be gone by Monday, and the odds are favoring the home teams, which have won nearly 80% of Game 7's historically.

Odds of Making Conference Finals

1. Wizards - 71.3% (+20.6)
2. Heat - 70.4% (+9.8)
3. Spurs - 60.7% (+9.6)
4. Clippers - 48.1% (-20.4)
5. Thunder - 35.5% (+20.2)
6. Trail Blazers - 27.2% (+7.1)
7. Raptors - 24.3% (+3.4)
8. Pacers - 21.4% (+9.2)
9. Mavericks - 12.0% (-3.2)
10. Warriors - 11.5% (+5.4)
11. Hawks - 7.3% (-8.3)
12. Nets - 5.3% (-8.1)
13. Grizzlies - 4.9% (-5.2)

By taking out the Bulls quickly, the Wizards greatly increased their odds of making it another round, since they will either be facing the sub-.500 Hawks with home court advantage or the bumbling, tired Pacers. Looks like my pre-playoff prediction of Washington winning 2 rounds is looking pretty good.

Odds of Making NBA Finals

1. Heat - 47.2% (+8.2)
2. Spurs - 35.8% (+8.6)
3. Clippers - 30.3% (-17.0)
4. Wizards - 30.1% (+6.3)
5. Thunder - 18.4% (+10.8)
6. Raptors - 13.5% (+0.9)
7. Trail Blazers - 6.8% (+2.1)
8. Pacers - 6.3% (+2.0)
9. Warriors - 4.4% (+2.1)
10. Mavericks - 3.0% (-0.6)
11. Nets - 1.7% (-2.9)
12. Hawks - 1.32% (-2.4)
13. Grizzlies - 1.28% (-2.0)

A rematch between the Spurs and Heat is the most likely matchup in this season's NBA Finals, but newcomers Washington and Los Angeles will have something to say before it is over.

Odds of Winning NBA Championship

1. Spurs - 29.0% (+6.0)
2. Clippers - 25.3% (-17.1)
3. Heat - 14.1% (+5.3)
4. Thunder - 13.6% (+6.9)
5. Wizards - 6.5% (+2.4)
6. Trail Blazers - 3.4% (+0.6)
7. Raptors - 2.60% (+0.3)
8. Warriors - 2.59% (+1.2)
9. Mavericks - 1.6% (-0.6)

Only 9 teams still have a legitimate shot at the title, with the Heat, Thunder, and Spurs making big strides this week, while the Clippers faltered a little, though they are still one of the favorites to win it all. The West's odds dropped to 76.0%, down another 6% from last week, mostly thanks to the defending champs.

Updated Picks

Upset picks are in italics.

First Round

Pacers over Hawks in 7
Heat over Bobcats in 4
Raptors over Nets in 7
Wizards over Bulls in 5
Spurs over Mavericks in 7
Thunder over Grizzlies in 7
Clippers over Warriors in 7
Trail Blazers over Rockets in 6

I originally picked Houston to win round 1, but the other 7 series picks are all where I originally had them, even Washington's upset win over the Bulls.

Second Round

Wizards over Pacers in 6
Heat over Raptors in 6
Spurs over Trail Blazers in 4
Thunder over Clippers in 7

I've switched 2 picks here, with LA slipping due to distractions and fatigue, and Miami taking Toronto's spot due to their great first round and downtime waiting for their next opponent.

Conference Finals

Heat over Wizards in 6
Spurs over Thunder in 6

It's looking like a rematch in the Finals, a total switch from my original prediction, but last year's Finals teams have played very well so far.

NBA Finals

Spurs over Heat in 5

San Antonio will get revenge for their first Finals loss and keep LeBron from getting the three-peat.

Friday, May 2, 2014

NBA Playoff MVP Rankings - 2 May

The first round is nearly over, with 2 series finished and six closing this weekend, so which players are currently on track to earn the Finals MVP award that has belonged to LeBron for the past two seasons? Here are my top 10 players who are still alive in this postseason (although no Bulls or Bobcats would have made it anyway), with spacing between players indicating a gap in relative performance.

1. LeBron James - MIA - 30.0 P, 8.0 R, 6.0 A, 2.3 S, .557 FG, .350 3P, .795 FT


2. LaMarcus Aldridge - POR - 29.8 P, 10.8 R, 2.0 A, 3.2 B, .500 FG, .775 FT


3. Russell Westbrook - OKC - 25.3 P, 9.7 R, 6.7 A, 1.5 S, .356 FG, .864 FT



4. Dwight Howard - HOU - 26.0 P, 14.2 R, 1.6 A, 3.0 B, .545 FG, .642 FT
5. Paul George - IND - 22.8 P, 10.7 R, 4.8 A, 2.5 S, .454 FG, .462 3P, .816 FT
6. Kevin Durant - OKC - 29.3 P, 9.8 R, 3.7 A, 1.7 B, 1.0 S, .412 FG, .778 FT
7. Damian Lillard - POR - 25.6 P, 6.4 R, 7.4 A, 1.0 S, .450 FG, .459 3P, .867 FT






8. Blake Griffin - LAC - 23.2 P, 6.5 R, 3.2 A, 1.3 S, .523 FG, .711 FT

9. Paul Millsap - ATL - 20.2 P, 9.8 R, 2.7 A, 2.0 B, 1.0 S, .427 FG, .409 3P, .824 FT
10. James Harden - HOU - 25.4 P, 4.8 R, 5.8 A, 1.6 S, .347 FG, .868 FT

As leader of the only team to complete a sweep in the first round, LeBron is the man to beat once again this season, and though he probably lost the regular season MVP this year, he cares more about winning the Finals MVP, and he's playing like it so far this postseason.

LaMarcus Aldridge opened the playoffs with an amazing 46-point, 18-rebound performance to upset Houston on the road and steal home court, then scored another 43 in game 2, but he has cooled off lately, managing only 8 points in game 5, which allowed the Rockets to cut the deficit to 3-2 in the series. If Aldridge had played better, he would be #1 on this list and the Blazers would be on to the next round already.

Kevin Durant may have been the league's best player during the regular season, but in the playoffs he hasn't even been the best player on his own team. That would be Russell Westbrook, who is putting up over 25 points per game while grabbing nearly 10 rebounds a game as a point guard. The only problem is, his best games have all been losses for the Thunder, which is why he's only #3.

In Houston's game 5 victory over Portland, Dwight Howard had his worst game of the series, scoring only 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds to go along with 3 blocks. If that doesn't seem like a bad game, that's because it isn't. Howard has just been that good this postseason, even raising his free throw percentage by nearly 10 percentage points.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

NBA Playoff Odds - 26 Apr

After one week of playoff action, 5 underdogs are leading 2-1, which has shaken up the odds a bit. No longer are the Spurs the big favorite after being blown out by Dallas in game 2 at home, and the Pacers may not even get out of the first round. Here are each team's updated odds of advancing through each playoff round:

Odds of Winning First Round

1. Heat - 88.4% (+19.5)
2. Clippers - 87.6% (+16.9)
3. Wizards - 70.0% (+29.4)
4. Spurs - 66.6% (-21.0)
5. Hawks - 65.7% (+30.2)
6. Trail Blazers - 64.1% (+30.2)
7. Grizzlies - 58.0% (+28.2)
8. Nets - 53.5% (+34.1)
9. Raptors - 46.5% (-34.1)
10. Thunder - 42.0% (-28.2)
11. Rockets - 35.9% (-30.2)
12. Pacers - 34.3% (-30.2)
13. Mavericks - 33.4% (+21.0)
14. Bulls - 30.0% (-29.4)
15. Warriors - 12.4% (-16.9)
16. Bobcats - 11.6% (-19.5)

The only team that has yet to lose a game this postseason is the Miami Heat, who haven't lost a playoff series since the 2011 Finals. The Clippers lost a home game, but were the only team to bounce back and win a road game to retake home court so far this postseason.

Odds of Making Conference Finals

1. Clippers - 68.5% (+21.1)
2. Heat - 60.6% (+20.4)
3. Spurs - 51.1% (-19.5)
4. Wizards - 50.7% (+23.7)
5. Bulls - 21.6% (-20.8)
6. Raptors - 20.9% (-22.6)
7. Trail Blazers - 20.1% (+13.6)
8. Hawks - 15.6% (+8.4)
9. Thunder - 15.3% (-15.8)
10. Mavericks - 15.2% (+10.8)
11. Rockets - 13.6% (-4.9)
12. Nets - 13.4% (+8.3)
13. Pacers - 12.2% (-11.2)
14. Grizzlies - 10.1% (+3.5)
15. Warriors - 6.1% (-8.7)
16. Bobcats - 5.1% (-6.1)

Three of the 4 most likely conference finalists are teams I picked to be there when the playoffs started last week, with Miami in the spot I had given to Toronto.

Odds of Making NBA Finals

1. Clippers - 47.3% (+23.0)
2. Heat - 39.0% (+14.1)
3. Spurs - 27.2% (-20.6)
4. Wizards - 23.8% (+12.2)
5. Raptors - 12.6% (-14.6)
6. Bulls - 10.0% (-10.4)
7. Thunder - 7.6% (-4.2)
8. Trail Blazers - 4.7% (+3.0)
9. Nets - 4.6% (+3.1)
10. Pacers - 4.3% (-4.0)
11. Rockets - 4.0% (-2.9)
12. Hawks - 3.7% (+2.3)
13. Mavericks - 3.6% (+2.6)
14. Grizzlies - 3.3% (+1.8)
15. Warriors - 2.3% (-2.7)
16. Bobcats - 2.1% (-2.6)

The Clippers, my pre-playoff pick, are now the most likely team to represent the West in the Finals, displacing the Spurs, who are still a major threat as well. Miami has replaced Toronto as the likely East rep, which would put them in the Finals for the 4th straight season with LeBron James.

Odds of Winning NBA Championship

1. Clippers - 42.4% (+21.4)
2. Spurs - 23.0% (-19.8)
3. Heat - 8.8% (+3.9)
4. Thunder - 5.7% (-3.3)
5. Wizards - 4.1% (+2.5)
6. Trail Blazers - 2.8% (+1.8)
7. Rockets - 2.6% (-2.2)
8. Raptors - 2.3% (-2.9)
9. Mavericks - 2.2% (+2.2)
10. Grizzlies - 1.9% (+1.9)
11. Bulls - 1.7% (-1.8)
12. Warriors - 1.4% (-2.2)

The West's odds of winning the title dropped slightly to 82.0%, with Miami as the only reason for any real hope back East.

Updated Picks

Upset picks are in italics.

These picks are not meant to replace my original picks, which I still stand by, but if I had not picked until this point, these would be my choices for the remainder of the playoffs.

First Round

Hawks over Pacers in 6
Heat over Bobcats in 4
Raptors over Nets in 7
Wizards over Bulls in 6
Spurs over Mavericks in 6
Thunder over Grizzlies in 7
Clippers over Warriors in 5
Trail Blazers over Rockets in 6

I am only switching 2 choices here, taking Portland over Houston after they won 2 road games to open the series, taking away the home court advantage. I also have the Pacers losing a round earlier than I originally thought, because they have not pulled it back together for the playoffs.

Second Round

Wizards over Hawks in 5
Raptors over Heat in 7
Spurs over Trail Blazers in 5
Clippers over Thunder in 6

I'm keeping the same 4 winners in this round, with the Wizards no longer an upset now that I'm projecting them to have home court in round 2.

Conference Finals

Wizards over Raptors in 6
Spurs over Clippers in 6

I have switched both picks here, with Toronto falling after having no rest in the first two rounds, while the Spurs will have the benefit of rest after dispatching the Blazers early.

NBA Finals

Spurs over Wizards in 4

Whichever team wins the West will have no trouble with Washington, and right now that looks like the Spurs, who have the experience that the Wizards and Clippers lack.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

NBA Playoff Odds

The NBA Playoffs start today with 4 games, and there are plenty of good matchups. Will the Heat be able to 3-peat? Can anybody stop the Spurs? Can Indiana pull it all back together? The favorites are obviously last year's Finals teams, but don't underestimate some of the underdogs. I have analyzed every possible playoff series, and I am posting my odds of each team advancing through each round of the playoffs, as well as my picks to win.

Odds of Winning First Round

1. Spurs - 87.6%
2. Raptors - 80.6%
3. Clippers - 70.7%
4. Thunder - 70.2%
5. Heat - 68.9%
6. Rockets - 66.1%
7. Pacers - 64.5%
8. Bulls - 59.4%
9. Wizards - 40.6%
10. Hawks - 35.5%
11. Trail Blazers - 33.9%
12. Bobcats - 31.1%
13. Grizzlies - 29.8%
14. Warriors - 29.3%
15. Nets - 19.4%
16. Mavericks - 12.4%

San Antonio was dominant over the second half of the season, finishing with the league's best record and making them a nightmare for any opponent, and I don't expect to see Dallas able to beat their instate rivals. Brooklyn ended the season on a slide, while Toronto played well down the stretch to grab the 3-seed, so though the experts see the Nets advancing, I see a possible Raptor sweep.

Odds of Making Conference Finals

1. Spurs - 70.6%
2. Clippers - 47.4%
3. Raptors - 43.5%
4. Bulls - 42.4%
5. Heat - 40.2%
6. Thunder - 31.1%
7. Wizards - 27.0%
8. Pacers - 23.4%
9. Rockets - 18.5%
10. Warriors - 14.8%
11. Bobcats - 11.2%
12. Hawks - 7.2%
13. Grizzlies - 6.6%
14. Trail Blazers - 6.5%
15. Nets - 5.1%
16. Mavericks - 4.4%

The Clippers have been looking strong lately, and even without home court against the Thunder, don't be surprised to see the upstarts pull the upset and set up a showdown with the juggernaut Spurs for a trip to the Finals.

Odds of Making NBA Finals

1. Spurs - 47.8%
2. Raptors - 27.2%
3. Heat - 24.9%
4. Clippers - 24.3%
5. Bulls - 20.4%
6. Thunder - 11.8%
7. Wizards - 11.6%
8. Pacers - 8.3%
9. Rockets - 6.9%
10. Warriors - 5.0%
11. Bobcats - 4.7%
12. Trail Blazers - 1.7%
13. Nets - 1.50%
14. Grizzlies - 1.48%
15. Hawks - 1.4%
16. Mavericks - 1.0%

Miami may have coasted through much of the regular season, but you can't count out a team that has been to three straight NBA Finals, and they are right back in the mix this year, with their core players all back and healthy and home court advantage against anybody in the East but the sinking Pacers. Will the Big Three make it four in a row in the East?

Odds of Winning NBA Championship

1. Spurs - 42.8%
2. Clippers - 21.0%
3. Thunder - 9.0%
4. Raptors - 5.2%
5. Heat - 4.9%
6. Rockets - 4.8%
7. Warriors - 3.6%
8. Bulls - 3.5%
9. Wizards - 1.6%
10. Trail Blazers - 1.0%

The other 6 teams have virtually no shot at winning the title, even the East #1-seed Pacers, who can't ride their record all the way to a title, even if they can win a series or two in the extremely weak East. The odds of the champion coming out of the West are 83.5%, with only a couple teams in the East with any chance of changing that.

My Picks

Upset picks are in italics.
(Regular season series in parentheses)

First Round

Pacers over Hawks in 6 (Tied 2-2)
Heat over Bobcats in 6 (Miami 4-0)
Raptors over Nets in 4 (Tied 2-2)
Wizards over Bulls in 7 (Washington 2-1)
Spurs over Mavericks in 4 (San Antonio 4-0)
Thunder over Grizzlies in 5 (Oklahoma City 3-1)
Clippers over Warriors in 5 (Tied 2-2)
Rockets over Trail Blazers in 6 (Houston 3-1)

Second Round

Wizards over Pacers in 6 (Indiana 2-1)
Raptors over Heat in 7 (Miami 4-0)
Spurs over Rockets in 5 (Houston 4-0)
Clippers over Thunder in 6 (Tied 2-2)

Conference Finals

Raptors over Wizards in 6 (Toronto 3-1)
Clippers over Spurs in 7 (San Antonio 2-1)

NBA Finals

Clippers over Raptors in 4 (Los Angeles 2-0)

You read that right. I am picking the NBA title to return to Los Angeles, but this time with a red, white, and blue banner hanging in the Staples Center rather than the usual purple and gold. Chris Paul will be the Finals MVP, another team will be able to remove its name from the list of teams to never win a title.