This was sent along by reader Jay and I found it interesting:
Just thought I’d pass this along, for what its worth. I was thinking about how close the West was this season and when I noticed that the Thunder were only 7 games behind the #1 seed Lakers, I thought I’d go back and check what the typical separation has been between #1 and #8 seeds. Here’s what I was able to find:
Since 1983 (when the league went to the current 8 team format for each conference) there have only been 2 times when an 8 seed has finished within 10 games of the 1 seed in its conference. Once was in 2003 when the Magic finished 8 games behind the Pistons. Strange thing about that season was that Detroit was the 1 seed with 50 wins, so the Magic was close by default with their 42-40 record. The other time was in 2008 when the 50-win Nuggets finished 7 games behind the 57-win Lakers. So, in the history of the league (at least under the current playoff format) there has never been a closer first round match up based on regular season record. If that weren’t compelling enough, here is a list of all the other margins between 1 and 8 seeds since 1983 (minus the strike-shortened season in 1999):
37, 31, 30, 29, 29, 28, 28, 27, 27, 27, 27, 26, 25, 25, 25, 25, 24, 23, 23, 22, 22, 22, 22, 21, 21, 21, 21, 19, 19, 19, 19, 19, 18, 17, 17, 17, 17, 17, 16, 16, 15, 15, 15, 14, 14, 13, 11, 10
So that’s an average margin of 21 games between #1 and #8 seeds. So as compelling as the history of #1 seeds beating #8 seeds is (only two series wins ever), this particular matchup is a lot harder to get a feel for.
The depressing part of the story is that the 2008 Nuggets were swept by the Lakers. I do believe the circumstances are different this season however. If you recall, that was the season in which the Lakers acquired Gasol in the middle of the year and they were playing there best ball to end the season. This Laker team is easily playing their worst ball of the season right now. In fact, the Thunder were the team that started this rough patch for the Lakers (after winning 7 in a row, the Lakers are 4-7 since the Thunder game). Kobe and Bynum still have major health concerns too, so I think this is a much different scenario then the one from a couple of years ago. (btw…the 2003 Magic took the Pistons to a Game 7)
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone can reasonably predict that the Thunder will win the series. However, I do think that 1 vs. 8 doesn’t quite sum up the matchup.