Which team will win the 2020 NBA championship? We’ve been waiting to find out for more than a year, ever since injuries and departures incapacitated the dynastic Warriors and set the stage for the most wide-open title race in a decade.
More recently, we’ve been waiting in stasis for months, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a postponement and, eventually, an unprecedented postseason situation, with 22 of the league’s 30 teams decamping for Orlando, where they will remain sequestered and compete for a title. Given the strangeness of this season already, anything can happen on the NBA’s new courts in the next few months.
And with today’s launch of The Ringer’s NBA Restart Odds, we’re here to help you make a bit more sense of the weirdness to come. Bubble integrity willing, the Restart Odds will update every night until an NBA champion is decided. Based on team strength as measured by point differential—a historically strong predictor of success—with adjustments for individual wrinkles like player absences, our playoff odds model includes three main features to help NBA fans navigate the weeks and months ahead:
1. The Restart Odds show the single-game odds for each day’s games. On reopening night, for instance, the Jazz are 60-40 favorites over the Pelicans, while the game between the Lakers and Clippers is close to a coin flip (51-49 percent in the Lakers’ favor).
Moreover, once the playoffs begin, the daily odds will reflect the importance of each game to the ultimate outcome of the series. We all know, intuitively, that a Game 4 between the Bucks and Nets with the Bucks ahead 3-0 wouldn’t matter much, while a Game 4 between the Lakers and Clippers with the Lakers up 2-1 would induce a massive swing in the series. For viewers picking and choosing which games to watch on a crowded playoff night, the model can quantify just how much each contest matters.
2. The Restart Odds show the play-in odds for various teams battling for the no. 8 and 9 seeds. If the team that finishes no. 8 in the standings is more than four games ahead of no. 9, it will automatically qualify for the 16-team bracket—but if the two teams are within four games of each other, they’ll enter a play-in period in which the no. 8 seed needs to win one game to advance, while the no. 9 seed needs to win twice.
The model will show the odds that various teams will finish eighth and ninth in their conference, as well as the chances of those teams forcing a play-in game. This portion of analysis is especially useful in the knotty Western Conference, in which six teams are fighting for two spots, and where a literal thousandth of a decimal point could mean the difference between a playoff appearance and an early trip home.
3. The Restart Odds show each team’s chances of advancing through various playoff rounds, from qualifying at all to winning the title.
The structure of the model holds up well historically when back-tested against more than 700 series since the invention of the shot clock. For instance, the model would expect the biggest favorites to win 94 percent of their series, and indeed, 94 percent have; it expects the favorites in the closest series to win 55 percent of the time,