NBA Playoffs 2013: First-Round Upset Probabilities for Each Series


Mark J. Terrill / AP

Greetings! Now that the first round playoff schedule has been released, and we gave our take on the X-factors and predictions, lets take a look at the possibility of “upsets” in each series. Let’s get it started!

Eastern Conference

#1 Miami Heat vs. #8 Milwaukee Bucks

I could go on for 1,000 words on this series, but it’s fairly simple. Miami has the best three players in the series, they were the best team in the NBA by six full games this season, and Milwaukee finished the season at 38-44 on the back of a bottom-10 offense. If there is one area where Milwaukee could challenge Miami, it is in the backcourt, as both Jennings and Ellis possess the ability to blow up an opposing defense, but any chance of an explosion from them is likely a one-game-only scenario. In short, the Bucks have no chance.

Upset Probability: 1%

#2 New York Knicks vs. #7 Boston Celtics

Now we’re talking. Two of the league’s signature franchises square off here, and this should be ultra-competitive. New York is the significantly better team on paper, playing with a legit MVP candidate in Carmelo Anthony and a bunch of explosive offensive pieces (read: shooters) around him. For Boston, they match-up very, very well with an offensive-minded team like New York thanks to the efforts of stoppers like Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, and Kevin Garnett. For me, the possibility of a Boston upset in this series comes down to two factors. First, they desperately need full health from Kevin Garnett. They are simply a different team if he is absent/hobbled, and he anchors everything they do defensively while providing 15-18 points in the bank. Secondly, Jeff Green is one of the NBA’s biggest enigmas, but his consistency has improved vastly over the second half of the season, and if he can be the guy that has given Miami fits this season for seven games? Boston immediately becomes a factor.

Upset Probability: 40%

#3 Indiana Pacers vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks

There will be a ton of content about this series in this space (obviously), so I’ll keep this short. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Atlanta seemingly tanked the final week of the season to line up a series with Indiana. This is not a good match-up for the Hawks. Indiana has an elite wing player in Paul George (something the Hawks don’t want to face), a defensive stopper in the middle in Hibbert (giving Al Horford fits with his size and without Pachulia available), and they finished the season with the league’s best defense. Stop me when I say something positive. Without the benefit of two of their top 7 players (Williams and Pachulia), this is not a match-up where I can see the Hawks really threatening to win 4 out of 7 games. The brightest picture here comes from the fact that Indiana is offensively challenged at times, and if the Hawks can aid them into some bad shots with good defense, it could become competitive.

Upset Probability: 15%

#4 Brooklyn Nets vs. #5 Chicago Bulls

The hanging cloud of Derrick Rose’s absence hangs over this series. With Deron Williams suddenly playing well (averaging 23 and 8 after the All-Star Break), the Bulls are in deep trouble in the backcourt, having to deploy the Nate Robinson/Kirk Hinrich combination. The frontcourt battle between Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez could be a draw, with both guys taking advantage of their strengths, but Brooklyn is certainly the more talented team in the absence of Rose. The positive end for Chicago is their ability to hold the opponent down defensively (allowing a top-5 in the league number of 100.3 points per 100 possessions), but with their offensive issues, I can’t see it.

Upset Probability: 25%

Western Conference

#1 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #8 Houston Rockets

James Harden facing off against his old team is one of the best subplots of the first round this season. With that said, however, the Thunder are head-and-shoulders better than Houston is just about every aspect. Oklahoma City is 2nd in the league in offense (fractionally behind Miami) and 3rd in the league in defense, while Houston fails to maintain that consistency with a #5 offense and a #16 defense. Harden will be keyed on by Sefolosha, and without an absolute explosion from him, the Rockets are in trouble. On the other end, I look for Durant to average 30-35 a night, and Jeremy Lin will have his hands full with Russ Westbrook. The Thunder cruise.

Upset Probability: 10%

#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers

Injuries rule the day. For the Spurs, Manu Ginobili will likely miss the entire series while Tony Parker is extremely rusty following his own injury struggles. For LA, Kobe Bryant’s noticeable absence casts a deep shadow, and Steve Nash was unable to play down the stretch of the regular season. San Antonio should be thrilled that the slow, plodding Lakers were able to secure the #7 seed, as they avoid the lively Rockets, and without Kobe, this version of the Lakers simply isn’t a threat to win a series without some help from San Antonio. I believe in Pop, Duncan, and Parker, and despite D’Antoni’s late acceptance of the Dwight/Pau duo, the perimeter play for the Lakers won’t be enough.

Upset Probability: 15%

#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Golden State Warriors

This is going to be a riveting series. It’s generally a good idea to pick the team that employs the best player in the series, but in this instance, the best player (Stephen Curry) is on the underdog. Both teams are top 10 in offensive efficiency and top 5 in pace, so this is the casual fan’s dream of up-and-down basketball with point totals in the 110-120 range every night. Denver isn’t at full strength after the loss of Danilo Gallinari, but with Ty Lawson looking to be close to full strength, they are still the favorite in the series. For the Dubs, they’ll lean heavily on the Curry/Thompson/Lee combo in this series, likely aiming to outscore the slightly short-handed Nuggets. Because they have the firepower, Golden State has a big-time chance at an upset, but with a gun to my head, I’d take the Nuggets.

Upset Probability: 40%

#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies

This series is honestly dead even, with LA becoming a slight favorite on the back of home-court advantage. Each team had identical home/road records this year (and overall, obviously), so it will come down to this for me. Who has the best player in the series? On paper and in my mind, Chris Paul is one of the best 5 players on Planet Earth, and if he plays to his capability, the Clips possess the ultimate weapon. His match-up with Mike Conley is must-see-TV, and he’ll hold the ball in his hands for virtually every crunch time possession. If Memphis has designs on advancing, they’ll need a super-human effort from Zach Randolph, and because we’ve seen him take over a series before, it’s certainly in play. It won’t be the casual fan’s dream, but NBA diehards should love this series, and it’s the best bet on the entire board for a 7-game war.

Upset Probability: 45%


It hasn’t been long since “March Madness” ended, but the NBA playoffs are a survival of the fittest and “upsets” are hard to come by. Stay tuned for the fantastic action!