Top seeds in doubt for Cavaliers and Warriors

We’ve written a lot about the Cavaliers and Warriors this season and how their Finals rematch feels inevitable, but suddenly there are clouds in the sky all around these two cities and they seem to be in trouble. The big problem has been injuries which has cost the Cavaliers Kevin Love and J.R. Smith for much of this season and recently took Kevin Durant away from the Warriors. The Cavs have weathered the storm for most of the season thanks to LeBron James playing heavy minutes, but the

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Warriors are really struggling without Durant right now and both teams are in trouble when it comes to the top seeds in their conference.

Way back on the 21st of February, these felt inevitable. Using FiveThirtyEight’s projection model, the Warriors had a 95% chance at the top seed in the West. The Cavaliers weren’t quite as good, but they were still a large favorite with a 77% chance. Today things look much different as the Warriors are down to just a 53% chance and the Cavs have just a 44% chance.

Here is a complete look at the FiveThirtyEight odds as of today:

ELO CARM-ELO Team Record Conf. Avg Sim. Point Diff. #1 Seed Championship
1718 1747 Warriors 52-14 West 65-17 10.9 53% 37%
1719 1715 Spurs 52-14 West 64-18 8.2 47% 25%
1636 1637 Rockets 46-21 West 56-26 6.5 <1% 6%
1607 1603 Wizards 41-25 East 50-32 2.3 9% 6%
1592 1600 Celtics 42-25 East 53-29 3.2 46% 6%
1578 1588 Clippers 40-27 West 50-32 3.3 <1% 2%
1589 1588 Jazz 42-25 West 50-32 3.7 <1% 3%
1587 1574 Cavaliers 43-22 East 53-29 3.6 44% 5%
How this works: This forecast is based on 50,000 simulations of the season and accounts for team fatigue, travel distance to games, and home courts with higher altitudes. Elo ratings are a measure of team strength based on head-to-head results and quality of opponent, while our CARMELO projections estimate a player’s future performance based on the trajectory of other, similar NBA players. Our CARM-Elo ratings, which power the forecast model, blend these two metrics to measure a team’s quality based on both its game results and its roster.

That’s kind of… shocking.

Not only how far they’ve dropped, but the shockingly low ELO rating for the Cavaliers. 1500 is considered an average team while 1600 is a playoff team, the Cavs are just at 1587 right now. That’s not good. Of course, these ratings are always changing and they will go up as we get closer to the playoffs. That said, there are a LOT of teams ahead of the Cavs right now and when you combine this with their 21st ranking in Defensive rating and you start to get worried.

They are actually not the favorite to win the East right now despite their two game lead in the standings. This has a lot to do with the schedule the rest of the way. The Cavs have one of the hardest while the Celtics have one of the easiest. Isaiah Thomas is playing like an MVP and Marcus Smart is a monster on defense. Boston at 46% is the favorite right now, but I wouldn’t necessarily count out Washington at 9%.

These ratings have them as the best team in the East right now and their schedule, while road heavy, has some definite upside. The starting lineup led by John Wall and Bradley Beal has been one of the best in the league and I think this team could be trouble. It’s not that hard to imagine the Cavs settling for the third seed.

For the Warriors, this is all about the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard is a beast, Patty Mills is great, Tony Parker is still strong and Danny Green has been playing well. Just another outstanding coaching job by Greg Poppovich. The worry with these guys has to be LaMarcus Aldridge who is currently out with a heart issue that has no timetable to return. The Spurs have played hard to get to 52-14, but now will have to adjust.

That might be just what the Warriors need. A healthy Spurs team could catch them, but if Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green can better start to figure things out without Durant I think they can hold onto the top seed.

The Cavs? I’m not so sure. They signed Larry Sanders to shore up the defense after they just lost Andrew Bogut, but he hasn’t played in years and it’s questionable if he’ll be what they need. The question with this team is effort and I just don’t think they want to make it. I think they are far more comfortable resting down the stretch and settling for a two or three seed. When rested and healthy they are an elite team in this league. There is no need to burn out LeBron and Kyrie Irving for a potential game 7 that might not even happen.

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