Discussion

Heat vs. Thunder vs. Lakers

Projecting how three title favorites would fare in series against each other

Updated: August 31, 2012, 1:54 PM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com

After acquiring Dwight Howard to line up at center alongside fellow stars Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash, the Los Angeles Lakers instantly remade themselves from a decaying former champion to one of the top contenders for the NBA title in 2012-13.

Notice that I said "one of." In the not-so-distant past, assembling a star-studded lineup like that would practically guarantee you a parade the following June. However, in today's top-heavy NBA, Los Angeles is but one of several "super" teams vying for control of the league. Even after all of their offseason wheeling and dealing, the Lakers will still have to get through the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West, and there's a good chance they will find the Miami Heat waiting in the Finals if they make it past OKC.

With this triad of teams far above the rest of the pack, we wondered how each team would fare if we simulated a best-of-seven series between them.

Sitting here in August, it's impossible to know what each team's precise distribution of minutes will be, but using the current depth charts, we can make an educated guess as to who will be starting and/or in the rotation for each squad. Using that knowledge -- along with a projected skill level for each player based on a cocktail of advanced stats including PER, win shares and adjusted plus/minus, plus a formula for what they historically mean in terms of predicting wins and losses -- we can estimate how often the teams would beat each other at home and on the road.

What follows are the best guesses on how each team's current talent level will translate in a series against their fellow superpowers.

Lakers versus Thunder

One thing is clear: The Lakers would have been lost in this matchup without Howard. Replace him with an average center, and the Thunder win a seven-game series with L.A. 70-80 percent of the time, regardless of who has home-court advantage. But Los Angeles did add Howard, and that changes the entire complexion of a hypothetical series between the Lakers and Thunder.

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