Simulation: Heat beat the Thunder

Our projection system forecasts a close Finals series -- and a Miami title

Updated: June 12, 2012, 1:58 PM ET
By Bradford Doolittle | Basketball Prospectus
Kevin Durant/LeBron James Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty ImagesThis year's NBA Finals series should be closely contested.

Remember the NBA lockout last fall? Doesn't that seem like a long time ago? It certainly seems like a bad dream to me. During that time, when the airwaves were filled with the sounds of lawyers yapping instead of sneakers squeaking, we ran a simulated season at Basketball Prospectus. We used our SCHOENE projections and partnered with the Strat-O-Matic game company to function as our game engine. The advantage of doing it that way is that we had not just the macro-level projections that SCHOENE does so well, but also detail all the way down to play-by-play and box scores.

As it turned out, the results were remarkably prescient, even though at the time we didn't know which free agents would hop teams, that Jeremy Lin would rise from obscurity, that Chris Paul would be traded to the Clippers or that Derrick Rose would be injured for much of the season. Despite all these things we didn't know, the bottom line was that our SCHOENE/Strat-O-Matic simulation nailed the eventual NBA final four and the Finals matchup. While everyone, myself included, foresaw an inevitable Chicago-Miami East final, the simulation said it would be Miami over Boston in six games. In the West, where few saw the Spurs going deep into the postseason, the sim said it would be the Thunder over San Antonio in five. Pretty nice.

That the simulation predicted the correct matchups in the conference finals was impressive. That it also picked the right teams for the Finals is less so. A Heat-Thunder showdown was predicted by analysts far and wide and both from the subjective and objective standpoints. In fact, if the simulation had not predicted Miami playing Oklahoma City, you would have had to question the integrity of the whole project. In our sim world, Miami landed home-court advantage for the Finals and went on the beat the Thunder in seven games. I don't think a seven-game series in the real deal would surprise many people, but in fact it's the Thunder who earned the extra home game, so that changes things.

The rosters are different than our original simulated Finals as well. Eric Maynor was OKC's backup point guard and Derek Fisher was still a Laker. For Miami, Mike Bibby and Erick Dampier were still attached to the team; Shane Battier was not. There were also a couple of key performance jumps from our projected numbers to consider: James Harden went from good to great, and LeBron James had a historically awesome season. There were other smaller variances from the projections, but these were the biggies. Enough has changed to demand a re-run, so that's what we've done.


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