NBA Playoff Bubble Breakdown and Predictions
When the NBA season began its restart, we as fans (and bettors) didn’t know what to expect. We assumed that the majority of teams would pick up where they left off during the regular season. The top 5 teams that performed well in regards to their straight up records during the regular season were the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers and Celtics. The top 5 teams ATS were the Thunder, Celtics, Raptors, Pacers and Clippers. The NBA has done a great job putting together this restart of a season, not only from a playing standpoint, but from protecting the players and staff while doing everything they can to limit the opportunities of a virus outbreak on their campus. A couple of impact factors that I wanted to see play out would be how players responded after not being able to play real games for 3-4 months, and how playing every game at a neutral site without fans would impact them as well. More on this factor below.
Here is some research that I dug up on some of the teams. I compared how well they performed at home during the regular season and how well they’ve been performing inside the bubble. I also broke down the top four teams with the best odds to win the title and gave my opinion on who will be the last standing:
- Top 5 teams at home SU record during the regular season: Sixers, Bucks, Heat, Clippers and Nuggets
- Top 5 teams at home ATS record during the regular season: Sixers, Heat, Bucks, Raptors and Celtics
- Top 5 teams neutral site SU records: Suns, Raptors, Spurs, Nets, Celtics
- Top 5 teams neutral site ATS records: Suns, Blazers, Nets, Raptors, Pacers, Clippers and Spurs
Photo Credit: Essentially Sports
The Los Angeles Lakers, who were 23-8 at home during the regular season and the #1 seed out west pretty much all season long, have struggled in the bubble going 3-5 SU and 1-7 ATS with a margin of victory of -6 and performing below expectations ATS with a -9.6 point differential.
Based off these numbers, the shutdown and restart has affected them the most, as they were playing with a great rhythm and confidence, so it’s a big factor working against them by not having the ability to have home court advantage. The Lakers are one of the most popular teams in all of sports and they’ve missed the playoffs the last five years. This would’ve been their first year back in the playoffs as the favorite and I’m sure their fan base and players were looking forward to that as they feed off their home crowd a lot. They also took a big loss to their roster when their best perimeter defender, Avery Bradley, opted out of the restart, leaving their perimeter defense vulnerable to elite players like Damian Lillard, James Harden, Russell Westbrook (when he’s healthy), Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Photo Credit: ABC News
The Milwaukee Bucks were 28-3 SU and 19-12 ATS at home during the regular season with a +14.7 margin of victory while exceeding expectations ATS with a +3.3 point differential. Giannis most likely wins his 2nd MVP. They haven’t been as dominant inside the bubble going 3-5 SU and ATS with a +3.5 margin of victory but not meeting expectations ATS with a -5.4 point differential.
They’ve also elected to play their bench for the 2nd half of some games that they’ve lost inside the bubble, but in the handful of games that they took serious against the Mavs, Rockets and Celtics, they didn’t look nearly as dominant as they did during the regular season. Ever since the Raptors showed the blueprint on how to defend Giannis when it really matters most in 2019, they don’t perform as well and I believe the Celtics are the team this year that can replicate what the Raptors did to the Bucks last year.
Photo Credit: Sky Sports
The Boston Celtics were 23-9 SU, 18-13-1 ATS at home with a +8.2 margin of victory and exceeded expectations ATS with a +2 point differential. They're one of the teams in the bubble which has not shown signs of slowing down at a neutral site, going 5-3 SU and 3-4-1 ATS (didn’t play their starting five in the last game). The Celtics also had +9.3 margin of victory and exceeded expectations ATS better in the bubble compared to home games during the regular season with a +5.6 point differential.
Boston would be my pick to win the East, and they're a dark horse at +1600 to win the NBA title. The Celtics are very well coached and young, but they also have a lot of playoff experience and have two guys they can go to in clutch time to close out games in Tatum and Walker. In his rookie year, Tatum led the Celtics to being minutes away from reaching the finals against LeBron James. He’s easily had his best season this year, becoming an all-star for the first time and emerging as the best player on a very deep roster. The Celtics also have have some motivation on their side as they look to bounce back from not meeting expectations in the playoffs last season, when they were bounced the Milwaukee Bucks.
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated
The Los Angeles Clippers were 25-7 SU and 18-14 ATS at home during the regular season with a +9.1 margin of victory, slightly meeting expectations ATS with a +0.5 point differential. I felt their were a few teams that would benefit from the shutdown and restart, and the team I felt would benefit the most was the Clippers. The Clippers had played about 60+ games and had their full roster available for less than 20 games due to injuries and load-managing players throughout the regular season.
The Clippers also added some key guys to their rotation (Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr.), so the shutdown for them allowed players to get healthy and before the restart they had enough practices and scrimmages to develop chemistry. Inside the bubble, they haven’t showed much effect from not having home court advantage by going 5-3 SU and 6-2 ATS with a margin of victory of +6.1 and exceeding expectations ATS better in the bubble compared to the regular season with a +2.5 point differential.
Kawhi Leonard looks to be in playoff form inside the bubble, but Paul George has also resembled his play from 2019 when he was a top three MVP candidate with the Thunder. George is averaging 25pts 5rbs 3ast on 48% shooting from the field. His production is also having a positive impact for the Clippers when he’s on the floor, as he also improved his on/off court net rating inside the bubble to +11.3, compared to +3 in the regular season. The Clippers are my pick to win the title, and there is some good value on them as they currently sit +290. I think they have the best combination of star players, experience, depth and versatility on their roster, in addition to having great role players come off the bench and elite coaching.
In conclusion, the Clippers are primed and ready to start taking over Los Angeles. It starts by winning this year's championship. They do not fear the Lakers, and in the first game of the restart while playing the Lakers they nearly beat them while not having either Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Those two guys alone not only combine for 36 points a game on average, but they’re also both in the running for 6th man of the year. Not only are the Clippers built to win now, but they’re constructed to be serious title contenders over the next 5+ years. The Lakers have the rich tradition, sure, but it’s all about the "right now" and right now the Clippers are motivated and ready to take over the number 1 spot in L.A.