Thursday, April 12, 2018

76ers All-Time Hottest NBA Team Entering Playoffs by One Measure, but Not by Another

With Wednesday night's blowout regular-season-ending win over the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers set a record for most consecutive wins entering the playoffs (16). By this measure, the 76ers could lay claim to being the all-time hottest NBA team entering the playoffs.

However, by another measure of end-of-season hotness, which I developed in 2015, Philly would not quite be at the top. As shown in the following graphic (which you can click to enlarge), the 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs were the hottest team in recent years entering the NBA playoffs. Note that my method uses only a team's final 10 games of the regular season (to make things comparable among teams), so one could argue that I am not doing justice to the full 16-game length of the Sixers' streak.

Also, my measure takes into account the strength of the opposition and it is here, in my view, that Philly suffers. If you win a game, your hotness "temperature" is multiplied by [1 + opponent's winning percentage entering the game]. Thus, when the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors beat the .781 San Antonio Spurs with eight games left in the season, the Warriors' cumulative hotness value after the team's prior game would be multiplied by a hefty 1.781. In finishing out the season, this year's 76ers  beat such weak teams as the Atlanta Hawks (twice, when the Hawks' winning percentages were .280 and .296), the Dallas Mavericks (.300), the Brooklyn Nets (.325), and the New York Knicks (.360). As a result, the Sixers' winning streak has included such anemic multipliers as 1.280, 1.296, 1.300, 1.325, and 1.360. Philly's toughest opponent in its last 10 games was Cleveland (.620), thus the Sixers' win over the Cavaliers gave Philly a multiplier of 1.620.

Just as my system rewards wins over good teams more than wins over bad teams, it punishes losses to bad teams more severely than losses to good teams. After a loss, a team's previous cumulative temperature is multiplied straight up by the opponent's winning percentage entering the game. If you lose to a .750 team, your temperature to that point is multiplied by .750. If you lose to a .400 team, your temperature is multiplied by .400, which lowers your temperature much more.

High hotness by this measure does not necessarily translate into playoff success, so Philadelphia fans should be OK with the fact that their team is not the hottest entering the playoffs in the last few years. Neither the 2011-12 nor 2014-15 editions of the San Antonio Spurs, which finished their respective regular seasons playing at pretty scorching levels, won the NBA championship (note that the 2015 Spurs entered their final game with a temperature of 52.43, but lost to a .543 New Orleans squad, roughly halving the Spurs' temperature to 28.47).

Among recent NBA champions, only the 2017 Warriors had a high temperature (26.00). The three title-winners before them had uniformly low temps:
As I noted in my original entry introducing the metric, the formula does not take account of factors such as home/road location of games, margin of victory/loss, or resting of players down the stretch. One could also argue that even a single loss (unless it's against a team playing .800 ball or thereabouts) is excessively influential in depressing a team's temperature. 

However, among teams who won all 10 of their final regular-season games -- the 2012 Spurs and 2018 Sixers -- I think the temperature metric properly reflects the more difficult opposition San Antonio encountered.

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