Posted by Neil Paine on May 7, 2010
The concept of a Fo'-Fo'-Fo' was immortalized by Moses Malone before the 1983 postseason, but while the Sixers stormed through the playoffs on the back of Malone's brilliant performance (.260 WS/48), Philly actually went 4-5-4, losing once to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. 18 years later, the L.A. Lakers looked as dominant as any playoff team ever has, but after going 3-4-4 to reach the Finals, a Game 1 loss -- ironically enough, to the Sixers -- derailed their hope of an undefeated playoff run. And so it has been that in all of NBA history, no team has ever swept the entire playoffs without a single defeat.
The only team with a chance to obliterate that piece of trivia in the 2010 playoffs are the Orlando Magic, 6-0 thus far after another big win over the Atlanta Hawks, a team that seems totally incapable of matching up with the Magic for 48 minutes. Right now, the Magic are 10 wins away from the 4-4-4-4 dream... What are the odds that they'll pull it off?
Well, first, what are the odds they sweep the Hawks? With the next two games coming in Atlanta, we can use this formula to assess the chances of a 0.720 WPct team beating a 0.646 one twice in a row on the road, given the league's home-court-advantage of 0.594 in 2010:
p(Home win) = ((Hometeam%) * (1 - Roadteam%) * HCA)/((Hometeam%) * (1 - Roadteam%) * HCA +(1 - Hometeam%) * (Roadteam%) * (1 - HCA))
For Orlando-Atlanta, this establishes the Magic's chances of winning 1 road game as 48.9%, meaning their odds of sweeping Atlanta are 0.489^2 = 23.9% at the moment. Their possible opponents in the Eastern Conference Finals are Cleveland and Boston; right now Cleveland has a 73.3% chance of winning the series, and Boston has a 26.7% chance. If they play Cleveland, Orlando would have a 4.5% probability of sweeping; if they play Boston, the probability is a more reasonable 13.9%. Combining these two facts, we see that Orlando has a 0.239*((0.733*0.045)+(0.267*0.139)) = 1.7% chance of replicating the 2001 Lakers' feat by going 4-4-4 through the Conference Finals.
Now, who would they play when they got to the NBA Finals? Out West, Phoenix has an 85.5% chance of advancing past San Antonio, and the Lakers have an 85.8% chance of beating Utah. If Phoenix played L.A., the Lakers would have a 61.8% chance of winning; if L.A. played San Antonio, they'd have a 72% chance of winning; if Phoenix played Utah, the Suns would have a 55.9% chance of winning; if Utah played San Antonio, the Jazz would have a 61.3% chance of winning. So we have these possible results:
- Lakers face Suns in WCF (73.3%), Lakers win (61.8%) --> 0.733*0.618 = 45.3%
- Lakers face Suns in WCF (73.3%), Suns win (38.2%) --> 0.733*0.382 = 28%
- Lakers face Spurs in WCF (12.4%), Lakers win (72%) --> 0.124*0.72 = 8.9%
- Lakers face Spurs in WCF (12.4%), Spurs win (28%) --> 0.124*0.28 = 3.5%
- Jazz face Suns in WCF (12.1%), Suns win (55.9%) --> 0.121*0.559 = 6.8%
- Jazz face Suns in WCF (12.1%), Jazz win (44.1%) --> 0.121*0.441 = 5.4%
- Jazz face Spurs in WCF (2.1%), Jazz win (61.3%) --> 0.021*0.613 = 1.3%
- Jazz face Spurs in WCF (2.1%), Spurs win (38.7%) --> 0.021*0.387 = 0.8%
From these, you can derive that L.A. has a 54.3% chance of making the Finals, Phoenix has a 34.8% chance, Utah has a 6.6% chance, and San Antonio has a 4.3% chance.
Okay, we're almost there... If the Magic face L.A., there's a 7.3% chance they'll sweep; vs. Phoenix there's a 9.9% chance; vs. Utah there's a 10.8% chance; and against San Antonio there's a 13.9% chance. This means the Magic have a ((0.073*0.54) + (0.099*0.348) + (0.108*0.066) + (0.139*0.043)) = 8.7% chance of sweeping whoever they meet in the Finals, assuming they make it.
You can combine all of the probabilities in this post like this:
- Magic sweep Hawks (23.9%) * Magic sweep ECF (7%) * Magic sweep Finals (8.7%) = 0.146% chance of going 4-4-4-4
That means that if you present Orlando with the situation they're in right now 1,000 times, they don't go Fo-Fo-Fo-Fo 999 times. But there is one chance that they do... Will the Magic take that chance?