While we know that the Hawks are going to be the 1st seed in the East, the rest of the conference is a bit more murky in terms of seeding. Beyond the Cavs, in the 3-5 seeds, the Raptors, Bulls, and Wizards are all within one game of one another, meaning all three places could easily switch around. Even more hectic are the 7-10 seeds. which have four teams fighting for two playoff spots. Pretty much all of these placements will affect the Cavs' path to the championship, some more drastically than others.
Now, instead of breaking down the playoff match-ups based on how each game has played against respective opponents, I figured I could look at it a different way. How have the Cavs played each of their possible playoff opponents compared to their season as a whole?
Here's what the current standings look like:
- Atlanta, 53-15
- Cleveland. 44-26 (10.0 GB)
- Toronto, 41-27 (12.0 GB)
- Chicago, 41-28 (12.5 GB)
- Washington, 40-28 (13.0 GB)
- Milwaukee, 34-34 (19.0 GB)
- Miami, 31-36 (21.5 GB)
- Boston, 30-37 (22.5 GB)
- Indiana, 30-37 (22.5 GB)
- Charlotte, 29-37 (23.0 GB)
Which leaves us with the following match-ups, with possible alternate opponents in parenthesis:
- Atlanta vs. Boston (Miami/Indiana/Charlotte)
- Chicago vs. Washington (Toronto)
- Cleveland vs. Miami (Boston/Indiana/Charlotte)
- Toronto (Chicago/Washington) vs. Milwaukee
So how do the Cavs match up with their opponents? The data I was able to put together shows the Cavs should be crossing their fingers and praying to face some very specific opponents.
Teams that the Cavs played better than an opponent's normal season averages, and teams that struggled to meet their own season averages, are the ones that the Cavs would rather play in the playoffs.
In essence, the teams the Cavs were able to outperform offensively and defensively should be the ones they are more successful against.
Here we have the statistical differentials for the Cavs and their opponents, when compared to the opponent's season averages:
- The Cavs score better than almost all their opponents.
- If you had any doubt, the Cavs really like 3-pointers.
- There is a pretty wide distribution when it comes to how the Cavs play defense (based on points and shooting percentage).
- Just because teams have a better record doesn't necessarily mean that the Cavs have competed better than their opponents' normal competition.
Just looking at straight point differentials doesn't have much of an impact though, because without context for how significant each differential is, we can't evaluate if an 8-point difference is actually better than a 7-point difference. For this, we look at percentages of the season stats, based on the differentials:
I decided to break it down into a simple score to show who really should be the teams the Cavs are rooting to face down the stretch:
Note: the scores are only relative to the same column, and should not be compared between the two.
In the end, the scores tell us the same story, that the Cavs are looking for a playoff road comprised of Boston-Toronto-Washington, though that might be unlikely. In a more realistic scenario, if the Cavs can avoid Miami and Indiana in the first round and Milwaukee in the second round, they should be fine.