The NBA playoffs are all about tough, grueling battles between evenly matched teams.
Well, the late rounds of the NBA playoffs are, at least. The opening round doesn’t usually offer much in the way of drama, and this year was shaping up to offer a particularly lopsided set of first-round matchups — particularly in the Western Conference:
FiveThirtyEight: Top-Heavy Western Conference
Sure enough, the weekend rolled around and six of the eight Game 1s finished with double-digit scoring margins, with five decided by 20 or more points and three of those decided by 30 or more. The average point differential of this season’s opening playoff games was 20.5, the highest of any season since the NBA expanded to its current playoff format in 1984.
|SEASON||AVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORY||SEASON||AVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORY|
Again, though, this wasn’t entirely unexpected. Our Elo power ratings (which estimate each team’s strength at any given moment) called for last weekend’s Game 1s to end with an average margin of 8.1 points per game — which would rank fifth-highest since 1984 — before the ball was ever tipped off.
|AVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORY||AVERAGE MARGIN OF VICTORY|
If we adjust for this, 2016’s blowouts look a little less impressive. In the opening games of the 1995 playoffs, for instance, the victors won by an average of 19.6 against an expected margin of only 7.0 points per game, for a difference of 12.6 PPG — a more lopsided set of Game 1s, relative to expectations, than this year’s, though just barely.
But even if this weekend wasn’t No. 1 relative to expectations, its games signaled that we could be in for some pretty unbalanced playoff basketball in the early going. As ugly as things could get, however, keep this in mind: If the favorites prevail, especially in the West, the reward for an unexciting first round could be one of the most competitive, talent-rich second rounds in NBA history.
Check out our latest NBA predictions.