It's June 4. You've survived late-night overtime games, the bursting of the Hawks' bubble, and the endearing but ultimately failed run of the Grizzlies, so now you can sit back and enjoy the compelling matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors.
That is the most likely NBA Finals scenario, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index, which gives the Cavaliers and Warriors a 22 percent chance of facing off in the Finals.
The Warriors have been the top team in BPI essentially since the first tip of the season, and the Cavaliers have been the top-rated team in the East since LeBron James returned from his midseason sabbatical, so it is no great surprise that BPI would pick them to square off in June. What is surprising, however, is that while the Cavaliers have a 52 percent chance of reaching the Finals, the BPI-dominating Warriors have only a 43 percent chance of getting there.
This is the dominance of the West rearing its ugly head. All eight Western Conference playoff teams (assuming the Thunder make it) are in the BPI top 10. So the Warriors will be playing top-10 teams in every round of the playoffs. They will be favored in each of those matchups, but it will be close.
Meanwhile, the only teams in the Eastern Conference in the top 10 are the Cavaliers and Hawks. The Hawks have only a 50 percent chance of making it to the Eastern Conference finals, so it is possible that by June 4 the Warriors will have already won best-of-seven series against three top-10 teams, and the Cavaliers will not have played even one.
So what if the lead shoes that are the Western Conference were on the other foot? What if the Cavs were in the West, and the Warriors in the East? Besides making sure that no one in Cleveland gets any sleep in May as the Cavs travel west and have 10:30 p.m. ET tipoffs, how would the odds of an eventual Cavaliers-Warriors matchup change? Simulating that scenario 10,000 times with BPI allows us a peek at the answer.
If just the Cavs and Warriors switch conferences, the likely outcomes change significantly. The Warriors would become prohibitive favorites in the East with a 74 percent chance of getting to the NBA Finals (up from 42 percent out of the West) and would have a 53 percent chance of being crowned champion. The Cavs, however, instead of being the top dog, fall to third in the West behind the Clippers and Spurs, with only a 16 percent chance of making the Finals and a 6 percent chance of winning the league.
This scenario demonstrates the effect on the playoffs and potential champion of the gauntlet that is the West and conference-by-conference playoffs. If the teams just swap conferences, the odds of their meeting in the Finals drop from 21 percent to 12 percent, with the Warriors versus the Spurs becoming the most likely Finals matchup at 22 percent.
Back to the reality of the Warriors facing the Western gauntlet and the Cavs strolling into the Finals: The Cavs would have to face what BPI tabs as the best team in the league, and it is not that close a call.
The Warriors have the top defense in the league, which, at 4.2 points above average, ranks ahead of the Thunder's offense and defense together and would qualify the Warriors as the fifth-best team in the league if their offense were only average (in fact, they could have an offense nearly as bad as the Celtics' at 1.5 points below average, and still be a top-10 team). Unfortunately for the rest of the league, the Warriors' offense is far from average, and at 5.1 points above average, they are behind only the Los Angeles Clippers and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offensive rankings. In the total rankings, the Warriors are three points ahead of the Clippers, the second-place team. The Clippers are three points ahead of the Mavericks, but the Mavs are ranked ninth.
This means that, despite the tremendous performance of LeBron James since January and the second-best offense in the league, the Cavaliers are destined to be underdogs if this meeting occurs. The Warriors would have a 71 percent chance to win home games and a 45 percent chance to win games in Cleveland, and since the Warriors would have home-court advantage in this matchup, they'd have a 72 percent chance to win a seven-game series and a 10 percent chance to sweep the Cavs. Sorry, Cavs fans, BPI says you'll probably still be waiting for next year.
• The Celtics are 21st in BPI but have a 24 percent chance of making the playoffs and a 15 percent chance of advancing to the second round.
• The Thunder are sixth in BPI and have a 21 percent chance of advancing in the playoffs.
• The Clippers are second in BPI but have only a 10 percent chance of winning a championship.
• The Spurs have moved up nearly one point in BPI over the last two weeks, the largest move up in the league.
Note: The NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI) is a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team. BPI is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. BPI represents how many points above or below average a team is. BPI accounts for game-by-game efficiencies, strength of schedule, pace, number of days' rest, game location and preseason expectations. Ratings will be updated in this space weekly.