First Round NBA Playoff Picks

OK, so once again I’m not officially part of the TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown, but I’m close. One of my friends is using my picks as guidance for her picks, so that’s a start. You’ll remember last year, without any kind of “system” I unofficially held my own against some of the brightest statistical minds in basketball.

This year, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the advanced numbers in making my picks. Did I let my gut affect my choices? Sure, but not as much as I used to. On to the picks.

1. Cavaliers vs 8. Pistons
Pick: Cavaliers in 4
Reasons: the Pistons won just 35% of their games against the Top 10 teams in the league in PPG Allowed. The Cavs defense is among the best in the game. A worse Cavs team stretched a better Detroit team to 7 games in '06 and won in 6 in '07. This series won't be as close.

2. Celtics vs 7. Bulls
Pick: Celtics in 7
Reasons: throw out the full-season stats for both of these teams. The Celtics probably won't have Kevin Garnett, and the Bulls DO have their trade-deadline acquisitions. Over the last 25% of the season, the Bulls have actually had a better scoring margin (+3.95) than the Celtics (+2.76). However, Chicago did it against a softer schedule, and even with Garnett out, the Celtics should step up like they did in Game 7 against Atlanta last year.

3. Magic vs 6. 76ers
Pick: Magic in 4
Reasons: The 76ers have actually ranked among the bottom half of the league in scoring margin over the last part of the schedule, while Orlando is among the league's best in that category. The Magic swept the regular season series, and assuming Hedo Turkoglu is healthy, Orlando has too many weapons for the 76ers (who rank 19th in the league in defensive effective FG%).

4. Hawks vs 5. Heat
Pick: Hawks in 6
Reasons: The Hawks rank 10 spots higher in offensive efficiency (the two teams are nearly identical in defensive efficiency). Why the big difference? Well, Miami doesn't grab offensive rebounds at a good rate, and doesn't get to the line (save for D-Wade, of course). The Heat's struggles on the offensive glass should be mitigated by the Hawks, who are one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the league. What will kill Miami is the free throw shooting. In their head-to-head meetings this year Atlanta made more free throws (85) than Miami attempted (56). Considering the 3 games were decided by an average of 2 points, that's too much of a difference to ignore.

1. Lakers vs 8. Jazz
Pick: Lakers in 4
Reasons: My gut feeling is that the Jazz will find a way to win a game in this series, like they did in the regular season against the Lakers, but let's take a look at that Feb. 11 game. The Jazz shot nearly 59% from the field, and yet only won by 4. The Lakers shot 26.3% from 3-point range  -- if they shoot their season average in that game, they make 2 more threes and win the game. Simply, the Lakers aren't a good matchup for Utah.

2. Nuggets vs 7. Hornets
Pick: Nuggets in 6
Reasons: The Nuggets and Hornets split their season series, but one of Denver's losses came without Carmelo Anthony. The key to this series? Peja Stojakovic. Denver was a middle of the pack team at defending the three, and allowed Peja to shoot 50% in the 3 games he played (for the season, he shot less than 38% against all other opponents). Denver can't count on aggressively crashing down on Chris Paul off of Peja, so they'll need the interior defense to keep playing strong (Denver's opponents shoot just 55.3% on inside shots, the best in the league).

3. Spurs vs 6. Mavericks
Pick: Spurs in 7
Nuggets: You really can't count on much from the regular season, since the Spurs won't have Manu, and Tim Duncan is hobbling. Interestingly, these two teams did play a game in which Ginobili and Duncan both sat out, and San Antonio won by 17. You don't want to put too much stock in one game, but this season, Tony Parker regularly torched Jason Kidd. Expect Parker to carry San Antonio to the second round.

4. Blazers vs 5. Rockets
Pick: Blazers in 5
Reasons: Very quietly, the Blazers ended the season #3 in John Hollinger's power rankings and have the second-best probability to win the West based on basketball-reference's formula. Portland also has a wave of big men to send at Yao, who shot just 42.1% in three head-to-head meetings this season. Houston did win two of those three games, but the Blazers are going into the playoffs playing their best basketball of the season.