NBA

Bucks clear favourites, LeBron's Lakers outsiders - Stats Perform AI predicts NBA playoffs

By Sports Desk August 17, 2020

The NBA playoffs are finally here.

After the regular season extended into August with eight rounds of seeding games in the Orlando 'bubble' - followed by the Portland Trail Blazers' win in their play-in game - we have our 16 playoff teams.

The Milwaukee Bucks are the top seed in the East, while the Los Angeles Lakers led the way in the West.

But everything does not always go to script in the playoffs, with the Bucks on top last year, too, but losing out to eventual champions the Toronto Raptors - inspired by Kawhi Leonard, now of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Despite this unpredictable format, the Stats Perform AI team have been crunching the numbers behind the scenes and running 10,000 simulations.

Using this model, we have taken a look at how the coming weeks could pan out...
 

BUCKS AS CHAMPS? LAKERS WIN UNLIKELY

After another outstanding regular season and with Giannis Antetokounmpo in their ranks, it may come as no surprise the Bucks are favourites to take the title for just the second time.

What might be slightly more unexpected is the distance by which Milwaukee are considered the frontrunners.

According to our model, the Bucks have a 29.6 per cent chance of triumphing, winning 2,959 of the 10,000 simulations.

The Clippers are next on the list and would win the championship in 18 per cent of cases, while the Raptors' title defence stands a 13.6 per cent chance of being successful, just ahead of the Boston Celtics on 13.4 per cent.

That means the Lakers are way down in fifth on our list of contenders, despite boasting LeBron James and Anthony Davis and enjoying a strong season to date.

Indeed, LeBron's team won the playoff tournament in just 848 of the 10,000 simulations - or a measly 8.5 per cent.
 

ORLANDO COULD YET CONJURE UP SOME MAGIC

The Bucks have a great opportunity to win the championship and they will certainly be expected to get through their first-round series against the Orlando Magic, the eighth seed in the East.

But do not count the Magic out entirely at this stage.

Orlando will have their work cut out if they are to get anyway near the Finals, let alone take home the trophy, but not every simulation saw the local side make an early exit.

Of the 10,000 simulations, six (0.06 per cent) actually saw the Magic go all the way and claim a stunning title triumph.

Steve Clifford's team are unsurprisingly least likely to win the championship, although the eighth seed in the West, the Blazers, are ranked ahead of the Brooklyn Nets, who came seventh in the East.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Indian Pacers are each also given less than a one per cent chance of becoming champions.
 

BUCKS IN SEVEN AFTER CLIPPERS SWEEP LAKERS?!

The playoffs can often feel too random for any model to contend with, but what if we ran the simulation just once?

Well, in that scenario, the Bucks still came out on top, but they were pushed all the way to seven games by the Clippers, requiring a remarkable fightback after going 3-1 down in the Finals. They won Game 7 112-90, however.

Both teams had come into that series full of momentum after 4-0 sweeps in the Conference Finals.

Milwaukee brushed aside the Sixers, who beat the odds to come past the Celtics and then the Raptors, while the Clippers battered rivals the Lakers, winning each game by more than 10 points.

Besides Philadelphia's shock run, the biggest upset in the bracket saw the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz sensationally beat the third-seeded Denver Nuggets 4-0.

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  • Hamilton's winning record in numbers - and the Schumacher benchmarks still to be beaten Hamilton's winning record in numbers - and the Schumacher benchmarks still to be beaten

    Lewis Hamilton's 92nd race win at Sunday's Portuguese Grand Prix saw him surpass Michael Schumacher for the most in Formula One history. 

    The Mercedes man, who equalled Schumacher's haul of 91 a fortnight earlier in Germany, started from pole but had to recover from a tough start to beat team-mate Valtteri Bottas. 

    Hamilton is now top of the pile, yet both he and Schumacher stand well clear of the rest in F1. 

    Sebastian Vettel is third in the standings with 53 wins, just ahead of Alain Prost's 51. Ayrton Senna had 41. 

    With the help of Opta, we take a look at more numbers behind Hamilton's success and his pursuit of Schumacher...


    HOW HISTORIC ACHIEVEMENTS BREAK DOWN

    The 35-year-old's record haul of victories have come from 262 grands prix at a win rate of 35.1 per cent. 

    Of his 92 successes, 80 have come from the front row of the grid (87 per cent) and 57 from pole (62 per cent). 

    With seven wins after qualifying in third, two from fourth and one each from fifth and sixth, only one Hamilton victory has come with the Briton starting from outside the top six – the 2018 German Grand Prix, he claimed a remarkable triumph after beginning the race way down in 14th. 

    Meanwhile, this latest win marked a 28th different circuit at which he has come out on top - another record - and arrives amid a dominant hybrid era. 

    Hamilton had at least nine wins in every season between 2014 and 2019 and, with eight so far, is on course to reach that mark again this year. No other driver has achieved this feat in six different seasons. 


    WHAT IS LEFT FOR LEWIS TO LOOK FOR?

    The most notable Schumacher record still on the table is his tally of seven drivers' championships, an achievement Hamilton will surely match this year. 

    But the German great also still leads the way in terms of various other statistics. 

    Hamilton spoke this week of a desire to remain at Mercedes next year and that should allow him to bring other benchmarks into view. 

    A victory in a 15th consecutive season in 2021 would tie Schumacher's historic run from 1992 to 2006. Hamilton's first (at Canada in 2007) came 255 races ago, with a longer stretch between successes enjoyed only by Kimi Raikkonen (294 between his first win in Malaysia in 2003 and his most recent in the United States in 2018). 

    Regardless of any extension to his stay with the Silver Arrows, Hamilton will likely add to his tally of 71 triumphs for the German outfit – only Schumacher has more successes with any one team (72 with Ferrari). 

    Another trip to Hungary could bring Hamilton's ninth victory there. No driver has ever reached nine wins at a single grand prix, with Schumacher having also registered eight in France.  

  • Hamilton sets F1 wins record: The six-time champion's greatest victories Hamilton sets F1 wins record: The six-time champion's greatest victories

    The records continue to tumble for Lewis Hamilton after his triumph at the Portuguese Grand Prix on Sunday.

    Hamilton registered the 92nd win of his Formula One career at Portimao, surpassing the record previously held by the legendary Michael Schumacher.

    It was the 27th different grand prix the Merdeces driver has won and the 28th track at which he has tasted success, extending records he already held in both categories.

    Hamilton sits top of the drivers' standings and looks destined to match Schumacher's all-time haul of seven championships.

    Following his record-breaking win in Portugal, we look back at some of the Briton's greatest drives.


    2007 Canadian Grand Prix 

    Hamilton provided an early display of his championship mentality in a dramatic race in Montreal. He may have led throughout, but he had to navigate the safety car being deployed four times in order to clinch his maiden victory in F1. The triumph sent Hamilton eight points clear of team-mate Fernando Alonso in the standings but he was pipped to the title by Kimi Raikkonen.

    STAT: Hamilton had the most consecutive podium finishes from debut in F1 history (nine) and equalled Jacques Villeneuve's record for wins in a rookie campaign (four) in a stunning first year in the series.

    2008 British Grand Prix

    After failing to score points at the two previous races and slipping to fourth in the standings, Hamilton bounced back emphatically with a dominant win at a wet Silverstone. Mistakes in qualifying meant he could only start from fourth, but McLaren's strategy amid changeable conditions was spot on. Hamilton won by over a minute and lapped everyone up to fourth place.

    STAT: Hamilton won four straight British GPs between 2014 and 2017. Jim Clark (1962-65) is the only other F1 driver to have achieved that feat.

    2013 Hungarian Grand Prix

    Hamilton came in for criticism for leaving McLaren and replacing Schumacher at Mercedes from the 2013 season. He got off the mark with the Silver Arrows in Hungary at a circuit that was not expected to favour his car, holding onto pole position despite not being given much of a chance of converting it into a victory. The tyres on the Mercedes held up better, with Hamilton pulling off quick passes on Jenson Button and Mark Webber following pit stops that his nearest rivals could not replicate as he stormed to glory.

    STAT: Hamilton won at the Hungaroring for the eighth time in 2020, matching Schumacher's record for the most victories at a single circuit (Magny-Cours).

    2018 German Grand Prix

    Hamilton started 14th following a hydraulic failure in qualifying but he secured an astounding victory at Hockenheim. Sebastian Vettel looked set to extend his lead in the race for the championship until rainfall on part of the track resulted in him crashing out from first place with 25 laps to go. Hamilton pulled away after the resulting safety car period and was catapulted to the top of the standings, a position he did not relinquish en route to his fifth title.

    STAT: By going from P14 to victory, Hamilton completed his win from the furthest back on the starting grid.

    2019 Monaco Grand Prix

    A stunning display of tyre management saw Hamilton keep the dangerous Max Verstappen at bay and seal Mercedes' sixth straight win from the start of the season. An early safety car after Charles Leclerc's crash saw Hamilton placed on the medium compound, while his rivals received hards. Despite fading grip and incessant pressure from Verstappen leading Hamilton to say over team radio he would need "a miracle" to win, he held on for a phenomenal triumph at the iconic circuit. He said afterwards: "I think it was the hardest race I've had. I've had a lot of races but globally, in the car and with the tyres, the strategy, with Max behind, it was the biggest challenge I think I've had and I'm really grateful I was able to pull it off."

    STAT: Hamilton's pole in Monaco was his 59th with Mercedes and saw him surpass Schumacher's record of 58 poles with the same constructor (Ferrari).

  • From calamity to clean sheet - Mendy comes through Old Trafford test From calamity to clean sheet - Mendy comes through Old Trafford test

    As he squinted through the relentless Old Trafford downpour for signs of encouragement, entertainment or life in general, Frank Lampard must have recoiled at a familiar sight.

    Chelsea's goalkeeper had done something comical.

    Edouard Mendy moved to Stamford Bridge from Rennes due to Kepa Arrizabalaga becoming hazardously accident prone.

    Back in the side after a thigh-injury absence gave Kepa the change to add to his expanding portfolio of gaffes during the raucous 3-3 draw against Southampton, the 28-year-old Mendy kept a clean sheet in the midweek Champions League draw against Sevilla.

    Half an hour had been played on Saturday when Mendy compromised his chances of another, turning and inexplicably passing the ball just wide of his right post. Manchester United only having a corner was something of a relief.

    Perhaps Mendy wanted to give himself something to do. Goalmouth incidents had been few and far between in a game where each side decided dressing up as the Michelin Man was the best way to protect their glass jaws. Caution reigned in the rain.

    But five minutes after his dalliance with slapstick, the Chelsea keeper stood firm to impressively deny Marcus Rashford with his right boot after Juan Mata released the England forward.

    Roles were reversed before the break, with Rashford darting in from the left and Mata striking sweetly from the edge of the box. Mendy tipped assuredly around the post.

    Lampard's preference for his goalkeeper to build play from the back presents Mendy with a learning process. In Ligue 1 last season. 56.7 per cent of his passes were classified as long balls, with 21 per cent of his goal kicks finding a team-mate.

    At Old Trafford, he completed 17 of 23 passes (73.9 per cent), with only three passes into the opposition half - a definite step in the right direction despite trying conditions.

    Mendy also looked to have his angles right when Edinson Cavani stole in at the near post to flick into the side netting from his first touch in a United shirt. The veteran Uruguay striker coming close to a dream start in England briefly raised the temperature of a dour contest.

    In the Sky Sports studio, Patrice Evra might have compared Harry Maguire's headlock on Cesar Azpilicueta at a 40th-minute corner (the lack of a penalty in this VAR age was stupefying) to Hulk Hogan, but the general torpor of the occasion was more suited to The Undertaker.

    It was a match that felt like a thick hangover from the goal-laden excess of the Premier League's opening weeks. Perhaps a realisation that, after all those ding-dong affairs, we enter the bleak British winter this weekend and a long, hard slog awaits.

    What, exactly, do the division's big hitters have to show for indulging in this early-season free-for-all? Exhausted from demands across multiple competitions and a compressed close season, all the usual front-runners are floundering to some extent.

    United have no wins from three home games and sit 15th, three places below neighbours Manchester City, who have had their worst start for six years and are level with Tottenham on eight points from five matches.

    Liverpool had the chance to pull level with leaders Everton by the end of Saturday, but they have had a historic 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa and a probable season-ending injury to Virgil van Dijk for their troubles.

    Chelsea are sixth, having won two out of six. It might be time for all to take a breath and fall back on fundamentals, such as a reliable goalkeeper.

    Mendy might have flirted with disaster but the best of his four saves - springing to push Rashford's stoppage-time drive out of the top left corner - meant he emerged with a second shutout this week. Lampard will hope he has found his Mr Dependable.

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