A Different Look at the Remaining Schedule, Part 4

By:
Published: March 26, 2018

Punchline: The Pelicans will have to work hard not to get into the Playoffs, but getting top-6 or top-4 is murky. They are losing important tie-breakers, including multi-team tie-breakers, but some of the common games are helping to offset those.

I may have to do another, or at least work through some more technical points and other multi-team tie-breakers in the coming days.

The New Orleans Pelicans have 8 games left to play, with 4 of them against teams they are in meaningful competition with for seeding: Clippers (higher Playoff stakes if they hang around), Spurs (last game of the season), Thunder, and Trail Blazers. In my last installment, the Clippers and Nuggets had shown themselves to in fact be the most vulnerable and the Pelicans had fallen, as predicted and despite what the typical standings charts were implying, as they did not take into account games remaining. With so many close games, they were misleading. As things have separated to the point of being “very close,” this is less of an issue.

The Situation

In the West, 2 teams are mathematical locks for the Playoffs (Rockets, Warriors), and 4 teams have been eliminated (Suns, Jazz, I hate the Mavericks, Grizzlies), and the Lakers are practically eliminated (tie-breakers being broken will send them into mathematical oblivion). The remaining 8 teams are all jockeying for 6 Playoff positions. The records range from 39 wins to 45 wins with between 7 and 9 games left to play for each team.

There are 66 total remaining games for the teams of interest, but 16 of these are between teams of interest, leaving 50 total games to be played that matter and 32% of them being between teams competing for position with each other. So, of the 66 times the teams see the court, only 50 wins (and 50 losses) are being assigned.

Of course, as things play out, the number of teams of interest may drop, but it won’t increase for me, as the Lakers can’t actually pass the Pelicans and are likely slotted in at 11th in the West.

The Metric

For the 8 teams of interest, the “tragic number” is calculated for each pair of teams. This is detailed in earlier posts, but the idea is based on looking at the outcomes to make it harder for the team behind to pass the team ahead. Those outcomes are wins by the leading team, losses by the trailing team. Once this number for the trailing team is less than their remaining games, they do not “control their own destiny.” Once this number is 0, they can’t pass the leading team.

I’ve got some tie-breakers addressed below, at least as they relate to the Pelicans. Also, common games (mentioned above) can have effects in complex situations, so we keep an eye on that.

The Real Standings

  • Trail Blazers: 45-28, 9 games remaining. Portland is unambiguously in the best position to end up in the 3rd seed, but their hold on the seed is not as tight as it was. They can lock up a Playoff position this week.
  • Thunder: 44-31, 7 games remaining. In terms of making the Playoffs, they have gained ground on the Trail Blazers (who swept the Thunder), but also have work to do to stay in 4th.
  • Spurs: 43-31, 8 games remaining. The Spurs currently share the lead of the 4-teams-within-1-game in the 5-8 spots in the West with the Pelicans. Still no Kawhi. This two-way tie-breaker will be decided on the last day of the season.
  • Pelicans: 43-31, 8 games remaining. The Pelicans made it through their tough schedule. While they still have some tough teams coming up, the most exhausting part of the season should be behind him. They play Portland Tuesday.
  • Jazz: 42-32, 8 games remaining. The Jazz are expected to rise, despite some recent losses, due to their upcoming schedule, but for now they sit here in the tight 5-8 group.
  • Timberwolves: 42-32, 8 games remaining. The Timberwolves continue to fall, but they are in a good position in terms of tie-breakers if they can hold on. They are not (currently) the bar for missing the Playoffs; the Nuggets and Clippers are the ones that matter.
  • Nuggets: 40-33, 9 games remaining. The Nuggets and the Clippers don’t control their destines, and the Nuggets are 1.5 games behind the current 8th-seed Timberwolves (who are in the catbird seat for their two-way tie-breaker). It’s not looking good for the Nuggets though they have managed to narrow the gap by 0.5 game in the past week. The Nuggets have the two-way tie-breakers over the Pelicans.
  • Clippers: 39-34, 9 games remaining. The Clippers are in the worst position to make the playoffs, clearly. They play some of the teams they might need to pass, like the Nuggets, Jazz, Pelicans, and Spurs. The Pelicans have 1 game remaining against the future-Sonics, and the two-way tie-breaker will be decided by that game. A bad week or so can end their Playoff hopes mathematically, and they can end practically before that. Save Our Sonics.

Overall, the Pelicans remain in a good position. Health is remains the key, along with other kinds of luck. April might be easier than the rest of March, but it’s not a cakewalk. Going 4-4 puts them in good position to make the Playoffs (not a guarantee), but they’ll need more to stay in the top-6.

I was saying maybe Minnesota will fall. They seemed untouchable until health got them, or was it the schedule, which is easing up soon? Will they let Denver or the Sonics in? We’ll see.

Common Games

Games between teams of interest because while the outcome is not predictable, that one team wins and one team loses is. I know: duh. The insight is not in counting the wins, but rather in being able to account for this information in your analysis when you are interested in both teams. The extreme cases (both win, both lose) are eliminated from possibility, and this can make a real difference.

Looking at the Pelicans, they have games remaining against the Trail Blazers (Tuesday), Thunder, Clippers (second-to-last game), Spurs (last game). These games take on extra importance when in competition with these teams (which they are, at least for now).

Looking at the bottom end of the standings, we have the following common games:

  • Clippers-Jazz: 1 game
  • Clippers-Nuggets: 1 game
  • Clippers-Timberwolves: 0 games
  • Jazz-Nuggets: 0 games
  • Jazz-Timberwolves: 1 game
  • Nuggets-Timberwolves: 2 games

That’s 4 series, 5 games in the bottom 4 teams of interest. So, what’s the big deal? Well, for instance, the Clippers and Nuggets both can’t win out, same for Nuggets and Timberwolves, Jazz and Timberwolves. If the Clippers and Nuggets climb up, while this threatens the Pelicans, they MAY be helping the Pelicans by dealing losses to other teams in the process.

Looked at another way, those 4 teams play 34 games, but I can only assign 29 wins, 29 losses to the teams involved. It may not seem like much, but in a world where magic numbers are 5 or thereabout, those differences matter.

Keep an eye on those. I’ve emphasized the games that do not involve the Clippers, as they may be the most relevant (3 common games out of 25, so 22 wins to go around).

Tie-Breakers

I promised tie-breaker talk, annoying as it all is. For now, I’m just focusing on the 18 most important cases. Unlikely as they may be, a race so tight means some tie is likely.

The short version of all this is: of the tie-breakers that matter, they come out at the bottom unless the Clippers are involved, and still maybe then. And if you are tied with the Clippers, something weird has happened.

The Pelicans have lost the division, which simplifies things.

The simpler cases are the 7 two-way tie-breakers, I’ll look at 11 complex cases for actually making the Playoffs, since those have higher stakes.

Here is the summary of the two-way cases with specific details following:

  • They won 1 (Thunder)
  • There are 3 TBD, all such that if the Pelicans win the next head-to-head matchup,
    the Pelicans win the tie-breaker and they lose the tie-breaker if they lose the game (Clippers, Spurs, Trail Blazers)
  • They lost 3 (Jazz, Nuggets, Timberwolves)

For head-to-head, x-y-z means the Pelicans are up x-y with z games remaining. In other cases, the format is similar, but with the record being focused on their own record objectively. “Away” is just the number of wins differences and the numbers of loss difference. The larger the number, the less likely a tie occurs ceteris paribus.

For convenience, the Pelicans’ division record is 7-7-2 (Spurs and Grizzlies remain), and their Conference record is 22-23-7.

The tie-break procedure here is, in order,

  • Head-To-Head
  • Division Record (if teams in the same division, so, Spurs)
  • Western Conference Record

In all these cases, the tie-breaker has been determined or comes down to the outcome of the next head-to-head game regardless of the actual tie-break rule applied.

  • Trail Blazers: 2-1-1 head-to-head, 27-16-9 in the Western Conference, 5 away. If the Pelicans end up catching the Trail Blazers after losing their last head-to-head, this two-way tie-breaker will go in favor of the Trail Blazers due to their large lead in the Western Conference. This will be settled Tuesday.
  • Thunder: 2-0-1 head-to-head, 25-21-6 in the Western Conference, 1 away. The Pelicans won the two-way tiebreaker.
  • Spurs: 2-1-1 head-to-head, 8-6-2 in the Southwest (Pelicans and Rockets remaining), 25-20-7 in the Western Conference, 1 away. The Pelicans lose this tie-breaker if they lose to the Spurs in the last game of the season, which only matters if they end up entering the game one win up on the Spurs. If the enter the game with one fewer win and beat the Spurs, they win the tie-breaker. The Conference record doesn’t enter into it in the two-way scenario since this would be settled at the Division level for these teams.
  • Jazz:1-3-0 head-to-head, 28-17-7 in the Western Conference, 2 away. The Pelicans lost the two-way tie-breaker.
  • Timberwolves:0-4-0 head-to-head, 30-15-7 in the Western Conference, 2 away. The Pelicans lost the two-way tie-breaker.
  • Nuggets:1-2-0 head-to-head, 24-23-5 in the Western Conference, 5 away. The Pelicans lost the two-way tie-breaker.
  • Clippers:2-1-1 head-to-head, 22-23-7 in the Western Conference, 7 away. The Pelicans will win the tie-breaker if they win the next game with the Clippers. If the Clippers win, then in the event of a tie, the Pelicans lose the tie-breaker due to how much ground the Clippers would have to made up in the West despite having 3 Eastern Conference games left to play. So, the winner of the next games takes the two-way tie-breaker but this is pretty unlikely to come up. This will be settled on April 9th, the second-to-last game of the season if the Clippers are even a threat to the Pelicans (or any Playoff team) at that point.

I’ll now look at some multi-team scenarios, at aimed at the Pelicans making the Playoffs. I look at all the cases involving the Clippers, Jazz, Nuggets, and Timberwolves. These are more unlikely than two-way scenarios just because of the number of teams that need to be involved, and even more so when the involve the Nuggets and Clippers since they are so far away from the Pelicans in the standings. These calculations are good no matter where the ties occur in the standings, so the Jazz-Timberwovles tie-breaker could help settle spots 6-8 if they were tied for 6th-most wins, for instance. The analyses are roughly in order of decreasing likelihood.

I’ll deal with teams further up the standings later if necessary. Here are how they fare in the multi-team tiebreakers, where the message is what it was above . . . they come out on the bottom unless the Clippers are involved, and maybe even then:

  • First:
    • Clippers-Nuggets with win over Clippers
  • Second:
    • Clippers-Nuggets with loss to Clippers, Clippers win over Nuggets
    • Clippers-Timberwolves with win over Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz with win over Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz-Nuggets with win over Clippers, Clippers win over Nuggets
  • Third:
    • Jazz-Nuggets
    • Jazz-Timberwolves
    • Nuggets-Timberwolves
    • Clippers-Nuggets with loss to Clippers, Clippers lose to Nuggets
    • Clippers-Timberwolves with loss to Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz with loss to Clippers
    • Clippers-Nuggets-Timberwolves with win over Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz-Timberwolves, with win over Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz-Nuggets with win over Clippers, Clippers lose to Nuggets
  • Fourth:
    • Jazz-Nuggets-Timberwolves
    • Clippers-Nuggets-Timberwolves with loss to Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz-Timberwolves, with loss to Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz-Nuggets with loss to Clippers
    • Clippers-Jazz-Nuggets-Timberwolves with win over Clippers
  • Fifth:
    • Clippers-Jazz-Nuggets-Timberwolves with loss to Clippers

The tie-break procedure here is, in order,

  • Winning percentage among tied teams
  • Division Record (if teams in the same division, so does not apply)
  • Western Conference Record

Here, you move from one tie-break rule to another only when there is no effect. If the tie-break rule completely separates the teams, that order is the final order. If not, the teams that remain tied go through the process again from the start considering only the remaining teams. This may be a two-way tie using those rules or a multi-team tie using these.

In all these cases, the winning percentage among tied teams settles the matter or simplified the problem down a simpler case settled by winning percentage or the two-way results.

  • Tie with Nuggets and Timberwolves: Common records are Timberwolves 6-0-2, Nuggets 2-3-2, Pelicans 1-6-0. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better, miss them otherwise.
  • Tie with Jazz and Nuggets: Common records are Jazz 5-3-0, Nuggets 4-3-0, Pelicans 2-5-0. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better, miss them otherwise.
  • Tie with Jazz and Timberwolves: Common records are Timberwolves 6-1-1, Jazz 4-3-1, Pelicans 1-7-0. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better, miss them otherwise.
  • Tie with Jazz and Nuggets and Timberwolves: Common records are Timberwolves 8-1-3, Jazz 6-5-1, Nuggets 4-5-2, Pelicans 2-9-0. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 5th or better, miss them otherwise.
  • Tie with Clippers and Nuggets: Common records are Clippers 3-2-2, Nuggets 2-3-1, Pelicans 3-3-1. This one is more complex due to the remaining common games. The Pelicans will make the Playoffs if it for 6th or higher, miss the Playoffs if this is a tie for 8th and the lose to the Clippers, and their fate is determined by the final Clippers defeating the Nuggets if this is a tie for 7th and lose to the Clippers.
    • If Clippers win both remaining games, they come out on top, followed by the Pelicans, then the Nuggets. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 7th or better, miss them otherwise.
    • If the Pelicans lose and the Nuggets win, the Clippers come out on top, followed by the Nuggets then the Pelicans. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better, miss them otherwise.
    • If the Pelicans win their game against the Clippers, then they come out on top regardless. If Clippers beat the Nuggets, Clippers and Pelicans are tied here, but the Nuggets have a worse record, so they drop out, and the Pelicans have the two-way over the Clippers. If the Clippers lose to the Nuggets, the three-way order is Pelicans, Nuggets, Clippers.The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 8th or better, miss them otherwise.
  • Tie with Clippers and Timberwolves: Common records are Timberwolves 8-0-0, Clippers 1-6-1, Pelicans 2-5-1. Here, the Timberwolves come out on top, and the Pelicans and Clippers are settled here or revert to the two-way tie-breaker, either way the second team being the winner of the final game between them. The Pelicans will miss the Playoffs if this is a tie for 8th, will make the Playoffs if it for 6th or higher, and their fate is determined by the final Clippers game if this is a tie for 7th.
  • Tie with Clippers and Jazz: Common records are Jazz 5-1-1, Clippers 2-4-2, Pelicans 3-4-1. Here, the Jazz come out on top. Then, if the Clippers beat the Pelicans, they come out second with the Pelicans third. If the Pelicans win, they are second. The Pelicans will miss the Playoffs if this is a tie for 8th, will make the Playoffs if it for 6th or higher, and their fate is determined by the final Clippers game if this is a tie for 7th.
  • Tie with Clippers and Nuggets and Timberwolves: Common records are Timberwolves 10-0-2, Clippers 3-6-2, Nuggets 4-3-3, Pelicans 3-7-1, The Timberwolves come out on top, and it gets complex from there. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 5th or better, can make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better and they defeat the Clippers, miss them otherwise.
    • If the Pelicans lose to the Clippers, they come out last, regardless of other outcomes. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 5th or better, miss them otherwise.
    • If the Pelicans beat the Clippers and the Clippers lose to the Nuggets, the Pelicans come out third regardless of other outcomes. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better, miss them otherwise.
    • If the Pelicans beat the Clippers and the Clippers defeat the Nuggets, the Pelicans and Clippers tie here behind the other two teams, revert to the two-way. Since the Pelicans defeat the Clippers, the come out third again. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better, miss them otherwise.
  • Tie with Clippers and Jazz and Timberwolves: Common records are Timberwolves 10-1-1, Jazz 6-4-2, Clippers 2-8-2, Pelicans 3-8-1. The Timberwolves, again, come out on top, followed by the Jazz. The Clippers or Pelicans come out third depending on the outcome of their final game. So, the Pelicans make the playoffs if this is a tie for 5th or better, make them at 6th or better if they defeat the Clippers, and miss otherwise.
  • Tie with Clippers and Nuggets and Jazz: Common records are Jazz 7-4-1, Clippers 3-6-2, Nuggets 4-5-1, Pelicans 4-6-1. The Jazz come out first no matter what. After that, it depends. The Pelicans will make the Playoffs if it for 5th or higher, make them at 6th or better if they beat the Clippers, 7th of better if the Clippers also beat the Nuggets, and miss them otherwise.
    • If Pelicans lose their game against the Clippers, the Pelicans come out last with the Clippers and Nuggets come out depending on their own game. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 5th or better, miss them otherwise.
    • If the Pelicans win over the Clippers, the Clippers come out last, and the Pelicans are second if the Nuggets lose to the Clippers, third if the Nuggets win. The Pelicans make the Playoffs if this is a tie for 6th or better, make it at 7th of the Clippers beat the Nuggets, miss them otherwise.
  • Tie with Clippers and Nuggets and Jazz and Timberwolves: Common records are Timberwolves 12-1-3, Jazz 8-6-2, Clippers 3-10-2, Nuggets 4-7-3, Pelicans 3-11-1. The Timberwolves come out first in this nightmare. The Pelicans come out last if they lose to the Clippers, regardless of other outcomes. If the Pelicans beat the Clippers, they come out fourth. It’s more interesting in the middle, but I don’t care about that. The Pelicans make the playoffs if this is a tie for 4th or better, 5th or better if they beat the Clippers, miss the playoffs otherwise.

Tie-breakers are sooo annoying. Just win, ok?

Ok.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.