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NBA Playoffs 2016: How will the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Utah Jazz mess work out?

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Three teams are tied 37-38 right now with two weeks to play


Right now the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and Utah Jazz are all tied 37-38 -- and occupy the 7th, 8th, and 9th spots in the Western Conference. There are two more weeks to play, and seven games, before the music stops. One of these three teams will be left without a chair, and thus, miss out. There are two parts to go over here. The first is a speculation on what will happen over the next seven games. The second, somewhat more important right now, is how does a three-team tie work out when looking at the NBA Playoffs?

More people can speculate on future wins and losses, and I will too; but first let's take a look at the tie breaker rules. According to the NBA (and their rules can be found here) they have a series of ever increasingly obscure levels to determine which team is better than another in the chance that 82 games doesn't resolve the pecking order. The basics follow this not-at-all-Byzantine sequence:

  1. Division leader wins tie from team not leading a division
  2. Head-to-Head won-lost percentage
  3. Division won-lost percentage (If both teams are in the same division)
  4. Conference won-lost percentage
  5. W-L Percentage vs. Playoff teams, own conference
  6. W-L Percentage vs. Playoff teams, other conference
  7. Net Points, all games

This sequence is the basis for a three-team-tie. While the Rockets and Mavericks are in the South West division you'd think the division thing would be in play, but not so as the Jazz are in the North West division. If this was the old Midwest division of yore then it would be. Anyway, onto the rules for a three-team-tie:

b. More Than Two Teams Tied

(1) Better winning percentage in all games among the tied teams.

(2) Better winning percentage against teams in own division (only if all tied teams are in the same division).

(3) Better winning percentage against teams in own conference.

(4) Better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in own conference (including teams that finished the regular season tied for a playoff position).

(5) Better net result of total points scored less total points allowed against all opponents ("point differential").

- The National Basketball Association, August, 2010

Okay, so (2) is off the boards, making (1) and (3) all that more important. There are two games left between these three teams, #HOUatDAL and #DALatUTA. Further complicating things would be the unequal number of games these three teams play one another. Houston plays Dallas twice. Houston plays Utah Twice. Utah and Dallas only play three times though.

This matrix may or may not help:

Team HOU UTA DAL W L Games Remaining
Houston Rockets X 2-2 2-1 4 3 1 #HOUatDAL
Utah Jazz 2-2 X 1-1 3 3 1 #DALatUTA
Dallas Mavericks 1-2 1-1 X 2 3 2 #HOUatDAL , #DALatUTA

So, if all three are TIED at the end of 82 games....

  • If Houston beats Dallas they end up 5-3, and will be tops no matter what, which will likely mean a #7 seed and a first round date with the San Antonio Spurs. In this scenario Dallas (having lost to Houston) could still end up beating the Jazz -- meaning that both finish 3-4 in head-to-head-to-head. Even if Dallas wins, thus winning the season series, they will still have to go to the next level (level (3), in the quote above) to determine the winner between Utah and them. In that case Utah could lose out because, well, the Jazz don't have a lot of Conference wins. Of course, that's a moot point if Utah beats Dallas.
  • If Houston does NOT beat Dallas, and thus finishes 4-4, there is a chance for Utah to leap-frog them if Utah beats Dallas. This would mean Utah finishes 4-3 (above .500), Houston finishes 4-4 (at .500), and Dallas would finish at 3-4 (under .500). In this case. There would be no need to go to the next level of tie-breaking.
  • If Dallas beats both Houston and Utah then they will finish 4-3, and take Utah's place, then Houston, then Utah -- as seen in the bullet point directly above this one.

Of course, NONE of this matters if the three teams do not remain tied after 82 games. And by looking at the remaining schedules it is unlikely that they do.

2015 2016 NBA Playoffs Finish Houston Utah Jazz Table 1

The Rockets have the easiest schedule, and Dallas has the hardest. This is, of course, on paper. It's likely that the Spurs may not give a damn on the last game of the season, and allow the Mavs to secure a much needed win. One thing that does pop out is that all three teams do face the same teams over and over again -- so it's almost like a true playoff for the playoffs. They all play at least one back-to-back set, and at least one game that's the third in four nights. If you place them by opponents win percentage you get the following:

2015 2016 NBA Playoffs Finish Houston Utah Jazz Table 2

The Jazz and Rockets both play LAL, PHX, MIN, DAL, and one of SAC or DEN. It isn't unlikely to expect wins there in at least four of those five games, if not all five. The Jazz and Mavericks both play SAS, LAC, and MIN as well.

The key differences are that Houston doesn't play any GREAT teams, but among the non-cake walks they do face, they face teams trying to still win now. This is not the case for Dallas, who will play SAS on the last night of the season, and may be playing an LAC team that has nothing to play for at that point in the season. I'm going to hope that's also the case for the Jazz, but I don't really see that as happening.

Ultimately, it may come down to the two games between these three teams: #HOUatDAL and #DALatUTA. No matter what, it's important for each of the teams participating to win. So it will be a dogfight over the next two weeks.

Still, I can see Houston winning at least a game more than Utah, and Dallas missing out on the playoffs. That's my prediction, anyway. It is going to be close though and down to the final night of the season for sure.

And for what it is worth, Houston and Chicago are playing right now, and it's tied 52-52.

Photo Credits:

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports-- Dirk Nowitzki

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports-- Gordon Hayward

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports - James Harden