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Chances for Winning by the Losers
Chances for Winning by the Losers

It is a catastrophe that in professional sports, a non-winning record can set the table for a legitimate shot at a world title.

In baseball, it has come close (see 2005 San Diego 

In baseball, it has come close (see 2005 San Diego Padres, 1973 NY Mets). In the NFL, only two .500 teams have made the playoffs since 1991 (1991 NYJ, 2004 STL). In the NBA, however, it has been the norm to find teams with a losing record compete in late April and into May.

Below, a table of the number of .500 win percentage teams, the number of first round games they have won, and the number of series they have gone on to win.

First Round Playoff Stats Last 10 Years
Year Teams at .500 or under Total first round games won Series Won
1996 2 2 0
1997 3 2 0
1998 1 2 0
1999 1 1 0
2000 0 0 0
2001 1 1 0
2002 0 0 0
2003 0 0 0
2004 4 4 0
2005 0 0 0
2006 3
Courtesy: Basketball-Reference.com

Parody just hasn’t existed in the NBA playoffs. These 15 teams in the last 10 years have combined to win just 12 playoff games and have never advanced. In 2004, four teams in the East had the shot and surely one could pull off the upset? Not even the four vs. five could do it.

The last time a team with a losing record entered the playoffs and won a Series was 1988. Then, the Seattle Supersonics boasted a 39-43 record as the 7-seed and made it all the way to the conference finals. They upset both Dallas and Houston, before being swept by Pat Riley’s Los Angeles Lakers. Since Seattle, a total of 31 teams have entered the playoffs with a record at or below .500. And these teams are 0-31 in playoff series.

So, how good of a chance do Milwaukee (40-42), Chicago (41-41) and Indiana (41-41) have this year? I’m not going to say “none,” because that’s why they play the game—but let’s delve into these match-ups.

(1) Detroit vs. (8) Milwaukee
One-seeds haven’t lost since 1999. But there was a technicality about that year: First, 1999 was the NBA lockout year, and only 50 regular season games were played. Second, three other teams had the same 33-17 record, but Miami won by a tiebreaker.

In a full 82-game season, it was the 1994 Denver Nuggets who upset the top-seeded Supersonics to advance to the second round.

With Flip Saunders at the helm, we’ve seen the Pistons play looser offensively, but still maintaining impressive defense—leading them to their best regular season record ever (64-18). Don’t worry about the nonsense concerning Ben Wallace not getting along with Flip: This team is focused when it comes to the playoffs.

Having said this, Milwaukee has their hands full. Let’s just look at player vs. player matchups.

Detroit Milwaukee Advantage

PG Billups Ford Detroit
SG Hamilton Redd Detroit
SF Prince Simmons Detroit
PF R. Wallace Bogut Detroit
C B. Wallace Magloire Detroit


Billups will substitute size for speed and can dominate Ford. Hamilton is a workhorse. Prince is undoubtedly better than Simmons. And I’ll just point out the experience from the front court to suffice my argument for the Wallaces.

To make matters worse, the only type of success they had against Detroit was when they played Toni Kukoc at the three. Kukoc is already banged up and will miss the first game, so his health will be a definite factor.
Prediction: Pistons in a sweep

(2) Miami vs. (7) Chicago
Chicago is the hottest of the East’s bottom-3, finishing 12-2 in their final 14 to slip into the show. They had a similar run in the final month of the season last year, winning 15 of their last 19 games. The Bulls’ only win against the Heat in the regular season came back on April 15 when the Heat rested most of their stars.

In the playoffs, it comes down to defense and though the “Baby Bulls” are young, they do buckle down, leading the NBA for the second straight season in defensive field-goal percentage (.426).

Offensively, the Bulls’ patented “drive-and-kick” out game has given opposing teams a hard time. Ben Gordon ranks 2nd in the Eastern Conference, hitting 43.9-percent from 3-point land, and point-guard Kirk Hinrich has shot 42.9-percent from behind the arc in his last five games.

Although the Heat have been locked into the No. 2 spot since basically January, I don’t see them having trouble kicking into high gear. Even when the Bulls shut down Wade in their meetings this year (12.3 ppg), the Heat have found a way to win.

The Bulls have no answer for Shaq, who had 14 points and 6 rebounds in just 20 minutes of action on April 15.
Prediction: Heat in 5

(3) New Jersey vs. (6) Indiana

 

 

This might very well be the best shot for a team at the .500 mark in the regular season to win a Series. The Nets came from the weak Atlantic Division that sent no other teams beside themselves to the playoffs. The two teams have similar defensive work ethics, as they are 5th and 6th in points allowed, respectively, in the NBA. The interesting thing about this series is the way they view each other: New Jersey players have said the Pacers are a good transition and look to slow it down, while Indiana players have said the exact same thing about the Nets! Wow, this should be a fun series to watch!

Jermaine O’Neal looks to be healthy into the playoffs, having played 30-plus minutes in his final 11 regular season games, but I don’t foresee him being the difference. The difference must come from the defense side of the ball, in particular, the ability to stop Vince Carter.

Peja Stojakovic and Stephen Jackson must play top-notch to pull the upset.

I have a feeling this series will go seven. The Nets were 29-12 at home, fourth-best home record in the Eastern conference, so that’s the way I lean.
Prediction: Nets in 7

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