Not only are we talking about the Utah Jazz making it into the playoffs, but the margin between 4th and 11th right now in the west is only 4 games, with anywhere between 18 and 21 games remaining for the 8 teams in this range. It’s still relatively early if you consider we are barely past the 2/3 mark of the season to start talking about such things as playoff seeding, but it’s so much fun that none of us really care! Some teams are bound to rise out of this muck, and some are bound to fall out, but for right now all 8 teams are legitimately in the mix.
With such a tight grouping of so many teams, it’s important to get a clear understanding of tie breaking rules in the NBA. Go here for a detailed analysis: http://www.nba.com/statistics/playoff_picture.html. Or, let me sum up the main points for you:
- All three division winners in the west are sufficiently above the fray so this primary tie breaker criteria should not come into play—Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, and Los Angeles Lakers.
- Sans division winners being involved, the primary tie breaker criterion is Head-to-Head record. After that, record against own conference (west, obviously) is next, followed by record against playoff teams in own conference, but I won’t go very deep into that—just keep it in the back of your mind
- If more than two teams end with the same record, then the combined head-to-head records determine the seeding, and it gets sort of complicated from there.
In an effort to better explain number 3, and why its big time important, let’s look at the head-to-head records between these 8 teams:
Each cell represents the record of column team versus the row team (wins – losses – remaining). For instance, Utah has 2 wins against Memphis, 0 losses, and one game remaining. Each team’s total head-to-head record against the other 7 teams is summarized at the bottom. So against these other 7 teams, Utah has won 7, lost 8, and has 7 remaining to play.
While we are all very aware of Utah’s record against these teams, their record against each other might be just as important. In order to illustrate this, let’s take a fun example of the Jazz, Timberwolves, and Clippers being tied, assuming the season ended today. The Jazz have 2-1 record against Minnesota and a 1-1 record against the clips, meaning they are ahead or tied against both of them, which you would think would be good enough to either take the tie-breaker or at least move to the next category. The total head-to-head combined record for the Jazz in this example is 3-2, or 60%. However, the Timberwolves currently own a 3-0 record against the Clippers. Therefore, the Timberwolves combined head-to-head record at this time is 4-2, or 66%, while the Clippers would have a 1-4 record in this scenario, or a 20% head-to-head record. Therefore, the final order would be Timberwolves, Jazz, then Clippers if they were to end up tied in this example. Even though the Jazz own the head-to-head against the Timberwolves, they would end up seeded behind them!
It gets even more complicated if in a multi-way tie situation, two or more of the teams have the same head-to-head winning percentage. There are no easy to explain example of this, but if in a four-way tie for instance 2 of the teams had a 60% head-to-head win percentage and that was greater than the other two, it would then be reduced to a 2 way tie between the two teams with 60%, and 2 way tie-breaker rules would then used to determine the winner between the two.
While these situations are unlikely, unlikely situations just love to happen in the NBA. It will be especially exciting if we are talking about a 3 or 4 way team between teams all of which are in the playoffs, and the tie-breaker criteria are used to determine seeding, not just who wins out for a final spot. Hopefully within a few weeks, we will see this 8 team list shortened to 4 or 5—with the Jazz being one of the 5, of course—and we can start getting a clearer idea of who we are rooting for when scoreboard watching around the league.
Final note: if the Jazz win tonight they would be in a three-way tie with the Nuggets and the Rockets (this will be true no matter the outcome of other games tonight). The Jazz would then have a 3-2 head-to-head record, or 60%. The Nuggets and Rockets would have a 2-3 (40%) and a 2-2 (50%) record, respectively. Therefore, for at least one day, the Utah Jazz would be the 7th seed!