Grizzlies have a 50-50 chance
Numbers say the top-seeded Spurs are at risk of falling to No. 8 Memphis in Round 1
On a surprising first day of Western Conference playoff action, both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds lost at home to supposedly inferior competition. The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers are clearly hoping their losses were just aberrations, but both teams are now under much more pressure to come up with a Game 2 victory. Only 14 NBA teams have won a best-of-7 playoff series after losing the first two games.
Meanwhile, fans of the Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Hornets are hoping that Zach Randolph and Chris Paul, respectively, can help their teams take down Goliath. Are those hopes realistic? We broke down some numbers, including using the "OP score" concept we introduced last week, to look for answers.
From the beginning, the San Antonio-Memphis series was expected to be abnormally competitive for a 1 vs. 8 matchup. In the TeamRankings.com predictive power ratings, the Spurs are ranked third overall, while Memphis is ranked 10th. That doesn't make them an elite NBA team, but it does mean that they're better than most historical 8-seeds.
Given team power ratings, at the start of the playoffs the Spurs had about a 75 percent projected chance of winning the series against Memphis. That's significantly lower than the 93 percent chance our ratings gave the Chicago Bulls to beat the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference's 1 vs. 8 pairing. Now that Memphis has taken Game 1, what chances do the Grizzlies have of winning the series? We broke down odds using three methods:
1. Series win odds after Game 1 (Power Ratings Method)
San Antonio: 54 percent
Memphis: 46 percent
Now that the Spurs have dropped Game 1, their projected series win odds have fallen by quite a bit. At this point, Memphis is in the rather enviable position of being the most likely underdog in the first round of the playoffs to win its series, despite the fact that the Grizzlies are playing a No. 1 seed.
It's hard to underestimate how huge beating the Spurs in San Antonio was for Memphis. The Spurs command the second-best TeamRankings.com home power rating in the league, while the Grizzlies have tended to play much better at home (where they command the No. 4 home rating in the NBA) than on the road. Bottom line: It's not going to be easy for San Antonio to steal a win when the series moves to Beale Street.
Finally, the Grizzlies are 5-0 against the spread versus San Antonio this season, meaning that they have outperformed Vegas expectations in every game. That's still a very small sample of games, but if you assume Vegas odds are efficient, the odds of Memphis covering five in a row by random chance are only around 3 percent. There may well be some more intangible matchup or motivational effects going on between these teams that favor the Grizzlies.
In short, the Spurs may still be very slight favorites at this point, but there are a lot of things going against San Antonio in this matchup. At this point, this series is darn close to a coin flip.
To read more about the Grizzlies' upset chances, and find out how worried the Lakers should be against the Hornets, become an ESPN Insider today.
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