In all but three of the last 10 seasons, a team in the Eastern Conference has made it to the Playoffs with a winning percentage south of 50-percent. The Detroit Pistons currently sport a record of 13-24 thanks to winning eight of their last nine after
having waived Josh Smith on December 22nd, 2014 trading Tony Mitchell for Anthony Tolliver. Some are wondering if the new-look Pistons are good enough to make a push for the Playoffs and what it will take.
It would be safe bet to say that if the Pistons were to finish the season 41-41, they would be in the playoffs. As it stands right now, if the teams' (other than the Pistons) current winning percentages held through the remainder of the season, that would mean the Cleveland Cavaliers would be in as the sixth seed with a 41-41 record. They would be followed by the Miami Heat at seventh with a 35-47 record and the Brooklyn Nets at eighth with a 35-47 record.
For the Pistons to get to 41-41 by the end of the season, they would have to go 28-17 down the stretch. That is a winning percentage of 62.2-percent which would be good for fifth in the Eastern Conference right now. Though they are sporting a 88.9-percent winning percentage since their pre-Christmas break (yeah, that is what I will call it), that is not going to hold the rest of the season. For them to get to 36-46 (one game above the current projected seventh/eighth spot), they would have to go 23-22 the rest of the way. Now that seems more likely.
However, there is a certain makeup to the schedule. Every team plays 82 games. Every team plays 41 of those games at home and 41 of those games on the road. Every team also plays 30 games against teams from the other conference. Most teams fare better against Eastern Conference opponents. So if we were to weight the percentages based on remaining games against each conference and how each team has fared against such conferences, would that change the standings much?
The answer is "only slightly." In 25 of the 30 teams, their final record would be changed by no more than one win or loss. For instance, the Pistons have a projected win total of 29 currently. They have played 19 games against the East at a win percentage of 36.8-percent. They have played 18 games against the West at a win percentage of 33.3-percent. This means that if you were to round the results of the remaining 33 games against the East multiplied by its winning percentage and add that to the remaining 12 games against the West multiplied by its winning percentage, the Pistons would finish the season with 29 wins. So no difference at all.
On the other hand, there are other teams where there is a difference. The largest example would be the Los Angeles Lakers. Their current projected win total is 26 wins. However, if you were to take the same methods as above, they should finish the season with 29 wins. Using the same methods on Dallas, they would only win 53 games instead of 56.
Now, this formula is not perfect. This was done using Excel and some very basic formulas. By using a rounding method, and not accounting for a win by one team exactly meaning a loss by another team, the total numbers are off. In this model, it shows 1,239 combined wins and 1,221 combined losses. That is a swing of 18 games in any which way for any number of teams. Here are the Eastern Conference teams (in their current conference order) along with their remaining games against each conference and their projected wins based on current percentage and conference percentages (note: hover over column headers for definitions):
The weighted system does not take into account how many of those games against each conference are at home and away. Another thing is against whom those games are against: top vs. bottom teams. Something else that this, and no other data accurately can, data does not take into account is trades and injuries. Deron Willions is out indefinitely due to a fractured rib. Recently J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert went from New York to Cleveland. Jeff Green has been moved (and so has Austin Rivers ...). I am sure that there are still other changes to be made.
However, the point of this data is not to provide hard evidence that it can happen, but to give hope. In the Eastern Conference it is common that a sub-.500 teams gets into the playoffs, and the way the year has gone so far, I do not see that changing this year. Over the last nine games, the Pistons have been playing like a brand new team. If they continue to play like they have, and we should expect some losses, it is difficult to think that they will end the season with only 29 wins. It seems very likely that Stan Van Gundy may be able to keep his playoff streak alive. As for his winning season streak, we will have to wait and see.