Hooray! Now that the NBA season is halfway through, it’s time to grab the popcorn, pull up a seat and watch the dramatic playoff races unfold, right? Um, not so much. Unlike the NFL, MLB and NHL, where playoff races are as exciting as the playoffs, all the jockeying for seeds in the NBA is pretty much done by the halfway point of the season. Since 1984, when the playoff field moved to 16 teams, 80 percent of the variability in the final standings can be explained purely by the standings today, on Jan. 20, (around the halfway mark of the season). Don’t believe us? Let’s roll out the data!
Top 8 locked in (mostly)
The numbers reveal that if your team isn’t in the playoff picture by now, it very likely ain’t getting there by April. Consider: Over the past 10 full seasons, Eastern Conference teams go from non-playoff seeds on Jan. 20 to the playoffs about once per season. In the West, it’s even more of a rarity, a thing that happens less than once per season, and only four teams have pulled it off since the 2007-08 season. (Note: The lockout-shortened 2011-12 season is not included because it didn’t follow the usual 82-game progression.)