While perusing the website of a well-known sports network out of Bristol (heard of 'em?) I came across the newest NBA power rankings and playoff predictions. Being a self proclaimed nerd and stat freak, I couldn't say no and checked out the updated batch of predictions for who will still be hoopin' when the weather gets warm. The site shows probabilities of making the playoffs, winning the conference, and winning the title for each team. As I scanned the list, I found a number I couldn't help but challenge. The Utah Jazz have a 53.9% chance of winning the Northwest Division, and a 14.4% chance of winning the title, according to the computer, who plays out 5000 potential endings to the season and ranks teams accordingly. The Jazz, who have been acclaimed as the hottest team in the West right now, are winners of 13 of their last 14. While looking at this run closely however, only four "quality wins" appear, two against Portland, one over the Nuggets minus Melo, and one vs the Mavs. The rest of the streak features opponents like Houston, New Jersey and Golden State. When looking at their record against the top 5 teams in the NBA, however, a disheartening 4-8 greets the reader. This is where I started to question the almighty computer. When a team like the Jazz is ranked ahead of the Nuggets, a team with an 8-1 record against those same teams (Utah included), and only a 5.8% chance of winning the show, I scratched my head. Denver has not only beaten Utah multiple times this season, but they are undefeated against the Lakers. Yes, the "Thuggets" tend to play to the level of their competition, but this will help them during the playoffs. They won't have to face any Washington Wizards, Houston Rockets, or T-Wolves during the playoffs, so they will be forced to play their A-Game. And when its time for the Nuggets to "put up or shut up," they put up, a lot. 107.4 ppg to be exact.
So maybe the Jazz do win the division, and Denver gets a three spot. I think most Nuggets fans feel confident about Denver playing Phoenix or San Antonio with home court advantage. Then they go on the road to play the Jazz, and we find out how smart the computer really is. The Nuggets won the season series 3-1. Stretch that out to a 7 game series and you're looking at a Denver win in 6. Then the Nuggets go on the road to play the Lakers, assuming they survive Portland and Dallas, with the familiar Staples Center floor underneath them. The speculation about that series warrants its own article.
So in short, take the computer seriously, to a point. But when Boise State doesn't make the BCS title game, and the Jazz are ranked ahead of the Nuggets, we all remember why we actually play these things out in real life.
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