Breaking Down the Seeding Battle

Note:  See Ben Golliver's Portland-Oklahoma City game recap here.

The Blazers are basking in the glow of two excellent road wins this weekend.  How key those wins in the playoff seeding battle?  They were big.  Take a look at the remaining schedules for the three teams shuffled in the 6th-8th positions. 

San Antonio  44-28

  • @New Jersey  9-64   (5-31)
  • Houston   36-36 (16-19)
  • Orlando  52-22  (22-15)
  • @Lakers  54-19  (32-5)
  • @Sacramento  24-50  (17-19)
  • @Phoenix  47-26  (29-9)
  • Memphis  38-35  (16-20)
  • @Denver  48-26  (30-6)
  • Minnesota  14-60  (5-33)
  • @Dallas  48-25 (25-11)

Oklahoma City  44-28

  • @Philadelphia  26-47  (12-24)
  • @Boston  47-26  (23-13)
  • @Dallas  48-25 (25-11)
  • Minnesota  14-60  (5-33)
  • @Utah  48-26  (29-8)
  • Denver  48-26  (18-20)
  • Phoenix  47-26 (18-17)
  • @Golden State  20-52  (16-22)
  • @Portland  45-29  (24-13)
  • Memphis  38-35  (16-20)

Portland 45-29

  • New York  26-46  (10-24)
  • @Denver   48-26  (30-6)
  • @Sacramento  24-50  (17-19)
  • @Clippers  27-45  (19-16)
  • Dallas  48-25  (23-14)
  • @Lakers  54-19  (32-5)
  • Oklahoma City  44-28  (20-15)
  • Golden State  20-52  (4-30)

San Antonio

Oklahoma City

Portland

Home Games

 4

 4

 4

Away Games

 6

 6

 4

Against +.500

 7

 7

 4

Back to Backs

 2

 4

 2

Opponent Records

370-363  (.505)

381-352  (.520)

291-291  (.500)

Opponent Records Adjusted Home/Away

197-168  (.540)

186-181  (.507)

155-129  (.546)

The first place to start in any discussion of playoff seeding is the loss column.  No matter what the standings say about virtual ties teams are not truly tied unless their losses are equal.  Until Oklahoma City and San Antonio lose their 29th games without Portland losing another one the Blazers are still at a comparative disadvantage.

Keeping that caveat firmly in mind, this weekend's wins give Portland reason for hope, as the Blazers appear to have some basic scheduling advantages over the Spurs and Thunder.  Portland has but 4 road games left.  Both of the other teams have 6.  Portland has 4 games against .500 or better teams.  Each of the other two have 7.  Oklahoma City has 4 back-to-backs remaining while the Blazers and Spurs have but 2.  Portland also has easiest schedule left measured by combined opponent wins and losses, barely edging the Spurs and far easier than the Thunder's schedule.

There are a couple twists to the story, however.  The second record listed for each opponent is adjusted for home or away games.  By that measure Portland comes out slightly behind San Antonio and far behind Oklahoma City.  This is largely due to Sacramento and the Clippers being far better home teams than their overall record indicates.  Those two road games loom large.  Adjusting for home and away records all three teams play exactly 5 games against teams at or above .500.  Not exactly the clear-cut advantage the Blazers had at first blush.

As far as tie-breakers, it's pretty clear-cut.  San Antonio owns the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City by virtue of a 3-1 season series win.  Portland owns the tiebreaker over San Antonio from their 3-0 sweep.  The only one yet up for grabs is the tiebreaker between the Thunder and Blazers.  If the Blazers win April 12th then Portland would finish ahead in any tie between the two teams.  If the Blazers lose that game the season series would be tied 2-2.  The next tiebreaker is record versus division opponents, since both teams are in the same division.  At this point OKC is 8-4 versus the division with 4 games remaining while Portland is 7-7.  The worst division record the Thunder could have while still beating Portland is 9-7.  The best division record the Blazers could have if they lost that OKC game is 8-8.  That would leave Oklahoma City ahead.  This makes things simple.  If Portland wins that last matchup with the Thunder then the Blazers take the tiebreaker.  If not, Oklahoma City takes it.

Taking a wild stab in the dark, projecting each team to win or lose obvious mismatches and go 50/50-ish in the other games the records project out thus:

San Antonio  49-33

Oklahoma City  49-32 (outcome against Portland not counted)

Portland 50-31 (outcome against OKC not counted)

As a benefit to Blazer fans I'm assuming they win against the Clippers and Kings on the road and the Mavericks at home.  But if you want to count one of those as losses and make Portland 49-32 except for that Oklahoma City game, go right ahead.  It all ends up the same.  The final game against the Thunder could determine where at least two, if not all three, teams stand at the end of the year.  There are plenty of games to go between now and then but that game just might turn out to be a classic.

Any way you look at it all three of these teams are walking a razor-thin line.  One loss could spell the difference between 6th and 8th position.  If you're a Blazer fan 2-3 losses would put you in good position, providing the Thunder are not among the teams you lose to.  At this point Blazer fans should be content to finish out of the 8th seed, avoiding the Lakers and getting a possible shot at Dallas, against whom the Blazers have had regular-season success.  The first thing to root for is that final victory against Oklahoma City.  After that you hope for San Antonio to falter, as Portland needs only to finish tied with them to remain ahead.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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