NBA Playoffs (02/17/14)

By John Ewing
Will the Miami Heat three-peat or will another team win the NBA championship? How much of an advantage is it to be an Eastern Conference playoff team? simulated the rest of the NBA season and the playoffs 50,000 times to find out.

With the conclusion of All-Star Weekend, NBA teams will begin their final push to make the playoffs. Instead of waiting until June to find out if LeBron gets his third ring, we use's Bracket Simulator to forecast who will hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
We used our rest of season projections to determine postseason participants and seeding in the playoffs. 
Back to our original question, can the Heat three-peat or will a team like Indiana or Oklahoma City finally break through? After 50,000 simulations, the most likely NBA champion is Indiana. The Pacers win 47.9% of all simulated tournaments. Indiana defeats Oklahoma City in the most likely NBA Finals.
Indiana is No. 1 in our Power Rankings with the most efficient defense in the league. The Pacers odds of winning the title have increased from 39.5%, back in January, to 47.9%. In contrast, Miami's odds have decreased from 18.4% to 10.6%.
East Coast vs. West Coast
It is no secret, the path for a Western Conference team to the championship is difficult. Seven of the top ten teams in our Power Rankings hail from the Western Conference. How much of a difference does it make playing in the East vs. the West?
Indiana is a very talented team but they have a competitive advantage by virtue of playing in the Eastern Conference. If the playoffs unfold like we project, the best team Indiana would face before the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals would be Atlanta. The Hawks are currently No. 13 in our rankings with a 25-26 record. 
Oklahoma City, our second most likely champion, faces a more difficult path. For example, just to reach the Western Conference championship, the Thunder will face Phoenix and then the winner of Houston/Portland. Phoenix and Houston are in our top 10 and Portland is No. 11 overall.
This begs the question, what if Indiana and Oklahoma City switched conferences. We simulated the playoffs 50,000 times with the Pacers as the No. 1 seed in the West and the Thunder the No. 1 seed in the East (everything else the same). Indiana would still be our most likely champion. Though the difference in expected win probability between the two teams is much closer. Indiana is 38.4% likely to win the title while Oklahoma City is 32.8% likely. 

NBA Playoff Odds (based on projected 2014 NBA Playoffs played 50,000 times)
Region Seed Team Conf Semifinals Conf Finals NBA Finals Champ.
Eastern 1 Ind 94.4% 86.0% 68.9% 47.9%
Eastern 8 Cha 5.6% 1.9% 0.2% 0.0%
Eastern 4 Atl 53.8% 6.0% 1.4% 0.2%
Eastern 5 Chi 46.2% 6.1% 1.0% 0.1%
Eastern 3 Tor 75.8% 24.1% 5.3% 1.3%
Eastern 6 Was 24.2% 4.0% 0.5% 0.1%
Eastern 2 Mia 87.7% 68.4% 22.2% 10.6%
Eastern 7 Bkn 12.3% 3.4% 0.4% 0.0%
Region Seed Team Conf Semifinals Conf Finals NBA Finals Champ.
Western 1 OKC 83.2% 61.8% 42.9% 21.6%
Western 8 Pho 16.8% 6.1% 1.8% 0.3%
Western 4 Hou 68.8% 24.9% 11.5% 3.5%
Western 5 Por 31.2% 7.2% 2.2% 0.4%
Western 3 LAC 64.0% 29.7% 12.2% 3.7%
Western 6 GS 36.0% 12.2% 3.7% 0.9%
Western 2 SA 74.8% 48.5% 23.3% 8.9%
Western 7 Dal 25.2% 9.5% 2.5% 0.5%