TrueHoop: Stat Smackdown

The picks are in. And I found them surprising. Seven out of seven experts picked the series to last six games, and five out of seven picked the same team to win.

And because the picks were so similar, the winner is already set -- but there's still plenty on the line. Read on, you'll see. 

Last year, Justin Kubatko of Basketball-Reference took home the winner's jacket, and this year, he's starting to look like a repeat champion.

So far, he's the only contestant to have correctly picked the winner in every series. And in three of the series, he also nailed the correct number of games. He has 61 points.

Newcomer Stephen Ilardi is five points behind, and presumably regretting his one miss: He picked Phoenix to beat San Antonio. If the Suns had pulled off that win, Ilardi would be winning.

Mike Kurylo is in third, with 50 with John Hollinger, Kevin Pelton, and Jeffrey Ma trailing close behind.

My mom was right there in the hunt, but she hitched her wagon to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers and paid a dear price in the standings for it; Every other contestant gained at least five points on her by picking the Celtics. Coupled with missing on the Jazz, she's now squarely in last place, watching the Ilardi/Kubatko battle unfold from a distance.

Tonight, on that front, will be huge. Kubatko has chosen New Orleans, and Ilardi San Antonio.

I have a hunch that a Hornets win would make it nearly impossible for anyone to dislodge Kubatko. Kurylo and Ma also picked the Spurs.

What's interesting, is that even at the start of this series, both Ilardi and Kubatko were torn about which team to pick -- Both had numbers suggesting New Orleans, but intuition (or, other numbers) saying San Antonio.

"Based on simple team regressions alone, it should be Hornets in seven," wrote Ilardi, "since New Orleans has been about +0.8 points per game better this year, and has the home court advantage for this series. But San Antonio has improved considerably in the post-season from an adjusted plus-minus standpoint, mostly by giving Kurt Thomas (+3.49) more minutes than Fabricio Oberto (-5.57), and by dramatically reducing the playing time of Jacque Vaughn (-5.45) and Damon Stoudamire (-7.21). I have the Spurs roughly four points per game better than the Hornets based on postseason playing time distribution, just enough to offset the +3.6 points per game home court advantage."

Kubatko, on the other hand, wrote: "The numbers point to New Orleans, so that's my pick, New Orleans in 7. However, I really like the Spurs and would probably pick them if I were going with my gut. To make myself feel better I came up with three reasons (other than what my math is telling me) why the Hornets should win this series: 1) New Orleans has the home court advantage. 2) New Orleans split their season series with the Spurs, and the two wins were 24-point and 25-point blowouts. 3) Chris Paul was, by a fair margin, the best player in the NBA this season."

Tonight we'll find out who was right: Kubatko's numbers or his intuition.

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