What Do the Numbers Say? Probability of the Cavs Beating the Dubs

Ahead of the NBA conference finals this Sunday, many have already come to the conclusion that the Cavaliers and Warriors will meet again in the NBA finals, for the record fourth straight time. For some, this is an exciting rematch. For others, it is another wasted opportunity for good basketball as they expect the Cavs to receive another beatdown. The dubs won 6-4 in 2015, the Cavs came back 4-3 in 2016, and dubs won again 4-1 in 2017.

While the match up has not always been close, these two teams have played a total of 18 finals games against each other, which provides a decent sample for a logit probability model. Using stats from these 18 games,  I created logit models to estimate the probability of a Cavs victory given Cavs’ performance. So, what do the numbers tell us? Is the Cavs on pace for another beating? Or is there a chance that the “new squad” can takedown the dubs?

“We got a fucking squad now” – J.R. Smith

The Data

I gathered data from the 18 finals games the Cavs and the Dubs have played since 2014. The result column has 1 for win and 0 for lose. The other columns contain key game stats: Field Goal % (FG%), 3-point % (3%), total rebounds (TRB), assists (AST), turnovers (TOV), and points (PTS). The three data sets below organize by the game stats by Lebron James (LJ), the rest of the team (R), and the entire team.


I created three logit models that estimate the probability of a Cavs win using different game stats as variables. The way to interpret this table is that a unit change in the game stat leads to a certain percentage point change in the probability of a Cavs win. For instance, the Logit Model 1 says that an additional point scored by Lebron James increases the probability of a Cavs win by 9.62%. (Certain coefficients do not make sense such as an increase in field goal percentage leads to a decrease in the probability of a Cavs win. This is likely caused by an outlier game in the 18 games sample) Overall, these three models show that points, assists, and 3-point percentages matter a lot!

Now, here is the fun part. These models tell us the importance of these game stats to the probability of a Cavs win, but we can also plug-in stats to find the probability of a Cavs win. The line below is Lebron James’ average game stat against the Dubs in the Finals. Even with his near triple double performance, Logit Model 1 says that the probability of a Cavs win is only 32.48%!

The plot below shows that if we hold Lebron James’ game stat at his finals average, but vary his game points, then the probability of a Cavs win increases up to 65%.

We already looked at what happens if we plug-in Lebron James’ average finals game stat. The table below shows the probability of a Cavs win based on different scenarios. For instance, if Lebron James performs his best and the rest of the team hits their finals high of 56.76% for their 3-point %, then the probability of a Cavs win is almost guaranteed at 97.43%!

The most important analysis here is to see what happens if plug-in game stats from the series against the Pacers and the Raptors. The results show what our eyeballs already told us. The Cavs better bring their “Lebronto” selves to the Finals if they want to beat the Dubs. If Lebron performs his Toronto average and the rest of the team hits their average 3-point %, then the probability of a Cavs win is 58.44%. If they perform their best, then the probability is as high as 83.09%.

Knowing this is helpful, but what about the probability of the Cavs beating the Dubs in the best of 7 series? The table below is just one of the paths, but things do not look good for the Cavs.

Combining these probabilities with some general statistics class probability work, I came up with the probability of the Cavs and the Dubs winning the chip in 4, 5, 6, and 7 games.


In layman terms, this says that even if Lebron has his average finals performance (which is amazing already) for G1 and G2, the Cavs bring their average and best Lebronto-selves for G3 and G4 at home, and Lebron has his best finals performance for G5, G6, and G7, the total probability of the Cavs winning in 4, 5, 6, and 7 games is only 17.02%, compared to the Dub’s 77.11%.

Yeah, the numbers say this will be another tough June for the Cavs.

Why the Golden State Warriors are Absolutely Fine

Let me just say that all this fanfare about the Warriors being in trouble is way overblown.

A team on pace to win 64 games hits a rough patch, and all of a sudden it seems like the entire sports media world piles on with completely baised and random stats to prove how much the team is in trouble.

Only a half game ahead of the Spurs! Stephen Curry 0-5 with under 10 seconds remaining! Warriors playing worse without KD (who saw that coming?)! Nevermind that the Warriors have played 8 games in 13 days, all in different cities, and 17 of the last 24 games on the road. At the end of the day, after the trade deadline, and even after KD’s sprain, the Warriors are still favored to take the championship this year – and for good reason. Let’s dive into the numbers.

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A Dream Deferred

Thoughts on Kevin Durant joining the Warriors

moment of silence for my dreams


To be honest, that dream looked more and more shaky watching the Thunder take the Western Conference by storm.

When I started writing my little pitch on Durant joining the Celtics I assumed the Thunder would get pummeled by the then immortal Spurs. I was hopeful that the resulting semifinal exit would be enough to steer Durant away from the Thunder and the Western Conference altogether, and it really looked like that would be the case after the blowout win by the Spurs in game 1.  I was sure that Durant would be watching the Western Conference Finals—the match-up we all thought would happen—from the sad comfort of his home. That didn’t happen.

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Rock Chalk

Could we end up having a Thunder-Raptors NBA Finals?

Before the Conference Finals started, the overall consensus was that the Warriors and Cavaliers would advance and meet up in a re-match of last year’s NBA Finals. After all, the better team usually wins in a best of 7 series and both the Cavs and Warriors had home-court advantage over the Raptors and Thunder, respectively. The Cavaliers had just swept the Hawks while the Raptors were coming off two grueling seven game series and missing their starting Center Jonas Valanciunas. And no one was beating 73-win Golden State in a best-of-7 series without home-court advantage.

Then, a funny thing happened: OKC stole Game 1. Then, coming off a game 2 rout at the hands of the Dubs, they eviscerated the defending champs in Game 3. Then, coming off back-to-back routs at the hands of the Cavs, the Raptors evened up the Eastern Conference Finals at 2 games apiece, with an injured JV now waiting in the wings to steal a crucial Game 5 in Cleveland. Could the unthinkable happen? Could we end up having a Thunder-Raptors NBA Finals?

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Rockets vs. Warriors – How Clutch City can shock the world

Analyzing how Houston can pull off the impossible

The Houston Rockets actually did it! After all the ups and downs of their tumultuous season, the Rockets snuck into the playoffs by beating up on the helpless Sacramento Kings last night. A big thank you to the Utah Jazz as well for their epic collapse over the last two weeks. Thanks Jazz!

Now the really hard part begins as the 41-41 Rockets travel to Oakland Saturday night to play the 73-9 Golden wState Warriors in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals. Will the Warriors even drop a game? The #1 seed defending champs won the most regular season games in NBA history, doing so in dominating fashion with a historically good offense led by greatest-shooter-ever Stephen Curry. The #8 Rockets meanwhile, have been what their record indicates they are – a mediocre team seemingly destined for a quick playoff exit.

But we play the games for a reason. Even though the Rockets are HUGE underdogs, they bring back the same team that played the Warriors close last season, this time with a healthy Patrick Beverley and semi-healthy Donatas Motiejūnas. The Rockets have also played great the last 3 games (granted they were against bad teams), while the Warriors have stumbled a little to close out the season. Can “Clutch City” live up to its name? Can the Houston Rockets pull off the historical upset and shock the world? YES, and this is how they do it.

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