NBA Playoff Probabilities 2020

The NBA Playoffs are set to begin on July 30th with two weeks of seeding games followed by the standard postseason format. I have developed a rating for every team using season performance, quality of best players, performance against good teams, and playoff experience in order to find the probability of each team winning the championship. The BARS (Basketball Adjusted Ratings System) for each team represents their true average point differential per 100 possessions. These are different from the regular season BARS Ratings as there have been adjustments for the postseason. These ratings can be found on the ratings page and will be updated as players opt out of going to Orlando.

Ratings and Probabilities

Play In Round

The play in round has been added to this years playoffs to account for teams not getting their full chance to make a run for the playoffs. The rules for the play in are that if the 9th seed is 4 games or fewer behind the 8 seed, then a play in will be played. For the play in, the 9th seed must win two games in a row to advance whereas the 8th seed only has to win one. One of the most interesting parts of this year’s playoff race has been the race for the 8 seed in the West. My model predicts that the Grizzlies will have a high chance of being a part of the play in round, likely facing the Trail Blazers or the Pelicans. In the East, the Wizards have about a one fourth chance of making the play in round, meaning they will have to play very well in Orlando to compete for a playoff spot.


Thirteen teams have a virtually guaranteed playoff spot. The only current playoff teams in jeopardy of losing their spots are the Nets, Magic, and the Grizzlies. My model predicts that the Grizzlies have the best chance for the West 8 seed (55%), followed by the Trail Blazers (22%) then the Pelicans (14%). Meanwhile, in the East, the Wizards have just a 4% chance of making the playoffs. They are probably better off playing bench players in order to prevent injuries to important players such as Bradley Beal.

Conference Semi Finals

The first round of the playoffs will be interesting this year. In the East, the teams that place from 3 to 6 are all matched up pretty evenly, and in the West, the teams from seed 1 to seed 7 all have a realistic shot of getting to the second round. My model says that the Bucks have just a 3% chance of losing in the first round and the Lakers have a 4% chance (due to having to face a better team). Of the teams placing 3 to 6 in the East, the Celtics have the best chance of making the conference semi finals (72%) and the Pacers have the worst (29%). Meanwhile, the West playoffs could be very unpredictable this year as only the Lakers and the Clippers have above a 70% chance of advancing to the second round.

Conference Finals

Everybody is expecting a Lakers vs Clippers conference finals matchup this year. My model thinks that there is a good chance of this happening, with the Lakers having a 83% chance of advancing this far and the Clippers having a 50% chance. However, several other teams have a reasonable shot at the conference finals, such as the Rockets, Nuggets, and Thunder. In the East, the Bucks have the best shot of making it this far by a lot. The other two teams with the best chances are the Raptors and the Celtics. After that, there is a drop off since the 76ers and Heat will likely have to play the Bucks in the second round, and the Pacers are not as good as the other teams.

Note: The probability of Conference Finals for the Celtics should be 38%, not 8%.

NBA Finals

The Lakers and Bucks both have over a 65% chance of making the Finals. We can expect to see a Giannis vs LeBron matchup this year barring any significant injuries. Only six teams total have a real shot at making the finals (meaning above 5% chance). From the West, the contenders are the Lakers (66%), Clippers (17%), and the Rockets (10%), and from the East, the contenders are the Bucks (69%), the Raptors (14%), and the Celtics (10%). There is a 45% chance that the NBA Finals matchup is the Lakers vs Bucks, meaning that there is still a good chance that we get an unexpected matchup.

NBA Champs

The Lakers are the most likely champions this season, with a 44% chance of winning the NBA Finals this year. They are followed by the Bucks (37%), the Clippers (7%), and the Rockets (4%). It is very likely that the Bucks or Lakers will win the championship as there is only a 19% chance that a different team wins. Only three teams have a real shot of winning the championship: the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers. We can expect to see LeBron James win his fourth NBA championship this season or Giannis winning his first.