As a reminder, 538 was founded by political pollster Nate Silver. Nate made his name by correctly predicting elections, primarily presidential elections in which 538 “electors,” not the voters, actually choose our president. In any event, 538 has since broadened their horizons into other worthwhile projects, including sports.
After Tuesday’s win over Dallas, in which the Spurs’ stellar defense on Luka Doncic’s free throws made the difference, and the ensuing results since, 538 now has the Spurs at >99% chance of making the playoffs. If you do the math, “greater than 99%” is pretty good. Actually, it is pretty good whether or not you actually do the math.
At this point, all but the most superstitious of Spurs fans are probably comfortable assuming that the playoffs are now a given, especially now that the 9th place Kings are in free-fall. Spurs fans are now hoping to wind up with a 6th or 7th seed to avoid another first round match-up with the Death Star Warriors (though the Warriors are much less Death Star-ian this season than in years past). The “good news” is that 538 predicts that the Spurs will wind up tied with the Clippers with identical 46-36 records. If things stay the way they are, that’s a good thing as the Spurs currently hold the tie-breaker over LA’s “other team” with a two-game lead in conference record.
The “bad news” is that 538 projects that the Spurs won’t hold onto 6th place which they are currently fluctuating in and out of with the Utah Jazz. Indeed, 538 has the Spurs finishing a full 3 games behind the Jazz, who 538 projects to come in at 49–33. For the final piece of the puzzle, 538 projects the Denver Nuggets to finish second in the West at 54–28, just ahead of the Rockets at 53–29.
So, if Spurs fans want to do something else for the rest of the regular season, rest assured that the Spurs: (1) are locked into the playoffs, (2) will likely finish seventh, and (3) could open the playoffs in Denver. Or you could just sit back, watch the games, and enjoy this unpredictable but oddly satisfying group of players continue to defy the odds, making Spurs haters groan about their refusal to just go away.
Other thoughts from 538’s predictions:
- The Warriors are currently 75% likely to win the West. Put another way, all the excellent teams in the West combined are given only given a 1 in 4 shot at knocking off the Warriors.
- The Warriors are given a 56% chance to win it all. Since their odds of making the Finals are projected at 75%, 538 says that the Warriors have a 56/78 chance (just over 71%) of beating whoever comes out of the East. To me, that seems a bit high, as both the Bucks and the Spurs North Raptors will have home court advantage in the Finals against any team from the West, including the Warriors. The Bucks also have been outscoring opponents by 9.2 points per game. This is a key stat which is significantly higher than the Warriors 5.9 points per game. The Raptors are at 5.1 points per game – though they have played a lot of games without their small forward, who is a pretty good player.
- In the East, the Bucks and Raptors have very similar projections to make the Finals, at 44% and 38% respectively. Preseason favorites Celtics and 76ers are each given only a 1 in 11 shot of making the Finals.
- Despite being projected to finish second in the West (which would be a remarkable achievement) and thus having home court advantage against anyone else in the West except the Warriors, the Nuggets are given only a 3% chance of even making the Finals. Of course, that may be because 538 picks the Nuggets to open the playoffs against our mighty Spurs.