Chances of 3-1 comebacks

Evaluating the odds for Bulls, Grizzlies, Hawks, Knicks, Nuggets and Magic

Updated: May 8, 2012, 3:23 PM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com
Ty LawsonGarrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty ImagesHistory tells us that the Nuggets have a good chance to extend their series with the Lakers.

After the first four games of a best-of-seven series, the only way a matchup can be more lopsided than 3-1 is for the winner to have finished its opponent off in a sweep. The 3-1 margin carries the lowest series leverage index of any active situation after four games; if the two teams are evenly matched statistically, the leading team is going to win the series approximately 86 percent of the time if it has to play Game 5 on the road (that number becomes 90 percent if Game 5 is at home).

In short, the 3-1 deficit is as hopeless a scenario as a team can find itself in while still actually winning at least one game in the series. The chances of a comeback are slim, and that's the situation currently facing four teams, as all of Tuesday night's games feature series that sit 3-1. The Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets are all staring down the barrel of some pretty long odds. In addition, the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies will find themselves on the wrong end of 3-1 in their games Wednesday night.

In situations like this, the coaching cliché is to take things "one game at a time," and that's actually pretty good advice. Historically, teams in a 3-1 hole have come back to win the series just eight times in 186 chances, a rate of 4.3 percent. In fact, just battling valiantly and forcing a sixth game is a big step -- teams down 3-1 have made it to Game 6 just 38.5 percent of the time since 1956. And there's certainly pride in merely living to fight another day.

So what are the chances for each of the teams currently down 3-1 to extend the series?


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Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.