Friday, March 18, 2011

Heat Check: Time to Hunt or Be Hunted

It seemed like the Miami Heat were destined to be the third seed in the Eastern Conference after losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-85 on Wednesday night and then I got a tweet from Heat fan @DaHaitianBeast:

@MIA_Heat_Index I think we could still get da #1 seed

sent via Twitter for Android
On Twitter:

I thought it was just a typical fan comment until I looked at the schedules for the Heat, Celtics and Bulls.

This article will use Win Score and Estimated Wins Produced, statistical models created by Professor David Berri from the Wages of Wins Journal, to measure how much a player's box score statistics contributed to their team's efficiency differential and wins. An average player produces an estimated 0.100 wins per 48 minutes (Est.WP48), a star player produces 0.200+ Est.WP48 and a superstar produces 0.300+ Est.WP48. More information on these stats can be found at the following links:

When I wrote about the Heat's schedule after the trade deadline, the team had an average WP48 of 0.151 (best in the NBA at the time) with a 60 percent or greater chance to win in 12 of their last 14 games (according to this formula created by Arturo Galletti). Unfortunately, the Heat have gone 3-5 in the eight games they played since that article was written and the team's average WP48 has dropped to 0.144. This spreadsheet illustrates how that decline affects the Heat's chances of winning 12 of the last 14 games.

After their decline, the Heat have less than a 60 percent chance of winning in three of their last 14 games:
  • Tonight's game in Atlanta against the Hawks,
  • April 10 in Miami against the Celtics and
  • April 11 in Atlanta against the Hawks.

If the Heat lose those three games, then they finish the season 58-24. Will that be enough to get the number one seed in the Eastern conference? The Heat are currently three games behind the Celtics for the second seed and 3.5 games behind the Bulls for the first seed. This spreadsheet lists the Celtics probabilities for winning games the rest of the season.

The Celtics have less than a 60 percent chance of winning in seven of their last 16 games and less than a 50 percent chance of winning in four of their last 16 games. In order for the Heat to pass the Celtics, they need them to lose six of their last 16 games. The Celtics are most likely to lose the following seven games:
  • Friday, March 18 at Houston Rockets
  • Saturday, March 19 at New Orleans Hornets
  • Monday, March 28 at Indiana Pacers
  • Thursday, March 31 at San Antonio Spurs
  • Friday, Apr 1 at Atlanta Hawks
  • Thursday, Apr 7 at Chicago Bulls
  • Sunday, Apr 10 at Miami Heat

The Celtics have already lost games to the Rockets, Hornets and Bulls, so it's entirely possible the Celtics finish the season with a 57-25 record. The Heat can finish with a 58-24 record if they beat Boston on April 10 and don't lose any games to teams they should be favored to beat (i.e. 60 percent chance or better of winning).

The Bulls, on the other hand, present a different challenge. This spreadsheet lists their probabilities for winning games the rest of the season.

The Bulls have less than a 60 percent chance of winning in four of their last 15 games. In order for the Heat to pass Chicago for the best record in the East, the Bulls would have to lose seven of their last 15 games if Miami finishes 12-2. If the Heat when their last 14 games, then they would need Chicago to lose five of its last 15 games.

As tough as it will be for the Heat to finish the season on a 14-game winning streak, it could be even tougher for the Bulls to end the season 10-5. Chicago is most likely to lose the following four games:
  • Friday, March 18 at Indiana Pacers
  • Tuesday, March 22 at Atlanta Hawks
  • Saturday, March 26 at Milwaukee Bucks
  • Sunday, April 10 at Orlando Magic

After those four games, the lowest probabilities of winning for the Bulls are 66 percent chances in Detroit on April 1 and against the Celtics on April 7. I don't necessarily trust either of those teams to beat the Bulls, but even if they do Chicago will finish with at least 59 wins.

If the Heat want to finish with the best record in the East, then they probably have to go undefeated for the rest of the season. This team would have to go from being the hunted to the hunter. Can they do it?

According to, the Heat had the best efficiency differential in the NBA at +7.5 (as of March 16). Efficiency differential is simply the difference between points scored per possession minus the points allowed per possession and is the best measure of a team's quality. The Bulls were ranked second in efficiency differential at +7.4. If the teams are that close, then the deciding factor in a seven-game series could very well be home-court advantage.

If the Heat want to be good, then they'll finish the season 12-2 and likely be the second seed in the East. If they want to be great, then it's time for the Heat to turn on some Notorious B.I.G.Unbelievable lesson:

Lesson A - don't f**k with M-I, that's that 
"Oh I, thought they was wack?"
Oh come come now 
Why y'all so dumb now - hunt the Heat or be hunted 
They got Three hundred and Six-ty One ways 
To simmer saute, they're the winners all day
Those Bulls title hopes get slimmer by Biscayne Bay

This post was powered by Biggie Smalls (rest in peace) & NerdNumbers.

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