ESPN gives the Celts 99% playoff odds - and 1% odds to win its division

ESPN has some mixed feels about the Boston Celtics lately.

The World Wide Leader's Basketball Power Index (BPI), a metric designed by the site's analytics team, gives the Celts near-perfect (99%) odds to make the post-season, yet considers it almost impossible (1% odds) they will catch Atlantic Division rivals Toronto Raptors to garner first place for the division.

Does that sound weird to you, too?

To be sure, saying they will make the playoffs - which might be attainable for a 40-win team in this year's contentious Eastern Conference race - versus saying they will win their division, currently topped by a team (the Raptors) on pace to win 58 games, is a very different set of propositions. But the former proposition is not exactly a hot take, as evidenced by the near-total confidence ESPN has Boston will be partaking in their third consecutive post-season.

But does it make sense to suggest the Raptors are currently untouchable? ESPN is using BPI to come to these conclusions. For the uninitiated, ESPN claims the composite metric:

"is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance for the rest of the season. BPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. BPI accounts for game-by-game efficiency, strength of schedule, pace, days of rest, game location and preseason expectations."

(For a more detailed breakdown of BPI, click here.)

There's lots of things that can be critiqued about the metric, among them synergistic, emotional, and injury-related factors currently unable to be measured, and tactic-based approaches (such as Boston's widely-reported approach to back-to-back games last season) that will inevitably result in distortions - but it's important to keep in mind such metrics are only supposed to be rough guides. Anything with the kind of predictive power Vegas oddsmakers would love to have has yet to be invented, and while I am a HUGE fan of properly used analytics, I'm not sure an all-seeing wins/losses metric would be desirable in the first place.

Thankfully, that's not the point here, but does considering the quick-and-dirty, time-tested approach of looking at the schedules line up with ESPN's complicated approach? Let's dive into the next ten games for each team and see.

Toronto currently owns a 3.5 game lead in the division race over Boston, a large but not exactly insuperable gap with roughly two-thirds of the season remaining. However, the Raptors also have one of the league's easiest remaining schedules in front of them, and the next ten games particularly so. In order, they face the Suns, Lakers, Spurs, Jazz, Bulls, Rockets, Celts, Nets, Knicks, and Nets again. In that stretch, only half of the teams they play are above .500, and only four (Spurs, Jazz, Rocket, and Celtics) likely to challenge Toronto, assuming they show up to play. Predicted record for this stretch: 6 - 4; I think the Raps drop games to the Spurs, Rockets, Celts, and Bulls or Lakers.

Boston would find itself just three games out of first place in the Eastern Conference race with a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight, but also has a light schedule over the next ten games, kicked off with said matchup against the reigning NBA champions which will be anything but easy. Following that game, Boston faces (in order) the Heat, Jazz, 76ers, Pelicans, Raps, Wizards, Hawks, Hornets, and Knicks - like Toronto, they face five teams over .500, and only four likely to challenge (Cavs, Jazz, -Raps, Hornets) should Boston play to their potential. Predicted record for this stretch: 7 - 3; I think the Celts pull out a win against the Cavs tonight, and drop games to the Jazz, Hawks, and Hornets.

This would put Boston at 26 - 16, and Toronto at 28 - 13 (compared with 19 - 13 and 22 - 9 now), one game closer in the win and loss columns each, making catching up with their Atlantic Division rivals a very real possibility. Both teams will have some very hard games left for the season (for Toronto, the Spurs, Clippers, Cavs, and a pair of games with Boston stand out, and for Boston, those two Raps games and matchups against the Warriors, Clippers (twice), and Cavs (also twice)). The Raptors clearly have an easier schedule remaining, with at least two fewer tough games left, but it is not exactly homerism to question the 1% odds ESPN has given Boston to win the division - I'd put it at more like 20%.

Splitting hairs? Perhaps. But if you're like me, you want some context to anything so extreme as far as predictions go, especially with so much season left to burn. Hopefully, for the Celtics, it lights a bit of a fire under the team, and gives some legs to the recent surge the squad has been showing.

For more stories about the Atlantic Division on Celticslife, click here. For more by Justin, click here.

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