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December 23, 2011
SCHOENE on 2011-12
Semi-Final Projections

by Kevin Pelton

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There's one factor that wasn't considered in the SCHOENE projections that appeared in this year's Pro Basketball Prospectus: schedule. Ordinarily, we're safe ignoring the schedule because it makes so little difference in the NBA. Nearly two-thirds of the schedule is common for every team, and just four out of 82 are unique among conference foes. Not so this year, when the 66-game schedule means teams will face most opponents from the opposite conference just once.

It's hard not to detect some bias in the schedule toward matchups involving top teams, and we have some statistical evidence of it. Normally, the best teams have the easiest schedules for an intuitive reason that's easy to overlook: They can't play themselves. Not so this year. Bradford Doolittle has a program built to simulate the entire schedule, accounting for home/road and back-to-back factors. He ran our near-final SCHOENE projections (they're through last night, meaning that nearly all key moves are in there, including the Brook Lopez injury) 10,000 times to yield the following projections.

There are a few issues worth noting here. One is that the projection gives us relative odds of important events (playoff spot, No. 1 seed, top record in NBA) to highlight the unpredictability inherent in a season. The other is the "Sch" column, which shows how much lower the team's win projection is here than in straight-up SCHOENE. In part, extreme teams will tend to get pulled toward .500 in such an exercise, but noting the Lakers' low value makes it clear that something else is at play. Also note that West's difficulty relative to the East means that East teams, especially in the lottery, have an advantage of sorts over their West foes. It's a pyrrhic advantage, though, given the strength of this year's draft.

EAST PLAYOFFS

Team            Win%     W    Play    Con    NBA    Sch      ORtg         DRtg
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Miami           .727   48.0  1.000   .517   .409   -2.1   114.2 ( 1)   105.1 ( 4)
Chicago         .697   46.0  1.000   .323   .239   -1.2   111.3 ( 5)   103.4 ( 1)
Orlando         .611   40.3   .997   .084   .045   -0.5   109.7 (14)   105.3 ( 5)
New York        .545   36.0   .940   .021   .008    0.5   112.1 ( 3)   110.1 (23)
Boston          .542   35.8   .940   .023   .008   -0.1   106.4 (24)   104.8 ( 3)
Philadelphia    .539   35.6   .924   .021   .007    0.1   107.2 (20)   105.4 ( 6)
Indiana         .492   32.5   .686   .006   .001    0.4   109.5 (15)   109.2 (18)
Milwaukee       .483   31.9   .587   .003   .001    0.5   104.2 (30)   104.6 ( 2)

Note that the Celtics, Knicks and Sixers are all basically tied atop the Atlantic Division. In this case, schedule could make the difference, and stunningly New York has the easiest slate of the three.

EAST LOTTERY

Team            Win%     W    Play    Con    NBA    Sch      ORtg         DRtg
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Atlanta         .471   31.1   .460   .002   .001    0.3   106.7 (22)   107.9 (13)
New Jersey      .436   28.8   .169   .000   .000    1.3   106.9 (19)   109.8 (20)
Charlotte       .430   28.4   .137   .000   .000    1.1   106.2 (26)   108.6 (15)
Toronto         .429   28.3   .129   .000   .000    1.4   110.4 (10)   112.9 (30)
Detroit         .395   26.1   .032   .000   .000    0.8   106.4 (25)   109.9 (21)
Cleveland       .338   22.3   .002   .000   .000    1.3   105.1 (28)   110.5 (26)
Washington      .295   19.5   .000   .000   .000    1.2   104.9 (29)   111.6 (29)

The Nets' projection dropped 2.5 wins after Brook Lopez's injury and the trade for Mehmet Okur, which severely hampers their chances of making a run at the playoffs.

WEST PLAYOFFS

Team            Win%     W    Play    Con    NBA    Sch      ORtg         DRtg
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Oklahoma City   .612   40.4   .992   .286   .096   -1.4   114.2 ( 2)   109.1 (17)
L.A. Clippers   .602   39.7   .984   .214   .068   -0.5   111.9 ( 4)   108.2 (14)
San Antonio     .580   38.3   .963   .145   .041   -0.4   110.6 ( 9)   107.3 (11)
Portland        .568   37.5   .938   .111   .028   -0.3   110.3 (11)   107.3 (12)
Dallas          .558   36.8   .907   .099   .022   -0.9   109.7 (13)   106.9 ( 8)
Denver          .526   34.7   .754   .049   .010   -0.5   111.2 ( 6)   109.5 (19)
L.A. Lakers     .508   33.5   .600   .035   .006   -0.6   107.7 (17)   106.9 ( 7)
Minnesota       .506   33.4   .569   .021   .004   -0.2   111.1 ( 7)   110.4 (24)

As much as the Thunder is the favorite, this conference is very much wide open, with five teams given at least a one in 10 shot of making the NBA Finals.

WEST LOTTERY

Team            Win%     W    Play    Con    NBA    Sch      ORtg         DRtg
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Houston         .494   32.6   .433   .015   .003    0.4   110.9 ( 8)   110.4 (25)
Memphis         .489   32.3   .414   .017   .003   -0.1   107.4 (18)   107.1 (10)
New Orleans     .471   31.1   .245   .006   .000    0.0   106.5 (23)   107.0 ( 9)
Utah            .456   30.1   .149   .002   .000    0.2   109.9 (12)   110.9 (27)
Phoenix         .421   27.8   .036   .000   .000    0.7   108.7 (16)   111.1 (28)
Sacramento      .392   25.9   .010   .000   .000    0.0   106.0 (27)   109.0 (16)
Golden State    .385   25.4   .007   .000   .000   -0.5   107.1 (21)   110.0 (22)

The one move of note that had not gone final by the time of these projections was the Rockets signing Samuel Dalembert. When that happens, I expect the Rockets to become favorites to reach the playoffs. It's worth noting that, as down as I am on Memphis, the Grizzlies still made the playoffs nearly half the time. Things are still very open in the bottom half of the playoff race in the West.

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Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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