Even if LeBron raises his game in the NBA playoffs, the Warriors are heavy favourites

June 02, 2017

As the late, quotable baseball great Yogi Berra once said, it’s like déjà vu all over again. The championship series of North America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) begins tonight, and just as in 2015 and 2016, it will feature the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors—the first time in the league’s 67-year history that the same teams have faced off in three straight finals. The two clubs’ paths to their 2017 conference championships should also look exceedingly familiar to knowledgeable fans. Just as in the previous two campaigns, the Warriors sailed through both the 82-game regular season and the three earlier rounds of the playoffs with dominating average scoring margins. In contrast, the Cavaliers stumbled to a good-not-great regular season but hit their stride in the playoffs, with just a single loss blemishing their 12 victories in the post-season.

Even before the 2017 playoffs began, statistically sophisticated analysts were debating the difficulties that Cleveland poses for mathematical NBA prediction models. Such systems generally rely on some combination of each team’s won-lost record and point differential, alongside the same figures for the clubs they played against. Although algorithms vary based on how much extra weight they give to recent results, and how much credit they give for victories by large margins versus small ones, they usually tend to agree on team strength.

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