Friday, 27 April 2012

When Losing Is Good

The New York Knicks duly won their game last night, as expected. Once the Sixers were down big early in Detroit (the games were simultaneous) there was no point in them tanking this game. Far more fun to rub Charlotte's noses, or more specifically Michael Jordan's nose, in it. Background: The Chicago Bulls and Knicks had a strong rivalry back in the early 90s, meeting in the playoffs four times in five seasons, with the Bulls winning four of those series.

The last game of the regular season was unique as the Golden State Warriors started with five rookies - the first time that has ever happened. (The word 'unique' is oft abused, so I thought I would make it very clear). 

Playing against a San Antonio Spurs team resting their stars made this a tough game to call, until you looked below the surface. As with football betting, the context of the game can be crucial - does Team A need a win, or is a draw enough? kind of thing. Trading at around 1.43 at tip-off, the Spurs hit 1.21 early on with just a 6 point lead, before the Warriors came back and led by one at half-time. 

What you could glean if you looked hard enough, was that a Warriors win would have meant them losing a first round draft pick (they needed to finish in the bottom seven of all teams to keep it) so while the players may have been looking to win this game, the word from upstairs at half-time might well have been different. In fact, it's almost certain that the issue was discussed. Draft picks, especially first round draft picks, are significant in American sports - the NFL draft started yesterday, and no surprise that the Indianapolis Colts used their first pick to select Andrew Luck, who lived in London for several years in case you didn't know. A name that copywriters must be salivating over, with its endless possibilities.

Here was the draft issue from hoopsworld explained much better than I could hope for: 

Having recorded an improbable victory Sunday at Minnesota in their third game in three nights, the Warriors took the Oracle Arena court on Tuesday knowing a win over the lowly Hornets would almost assuredly cost Golden State its first-round draft pick in June.
The Warriors must land among the bottom seven teams after the draft lottery in order to keep their first pick. Otherwise, it goes to Utah as part of a trade the Warriors made with New Jersey.
A 24th win Tuesday would have assured the Warriors would enter the lottery with either the eighth- or ninth-worst record. Their chances of finishing in the bottom seven under those circumstances would have been less than 10 percent.
Instead, a 42nd loss put the Warriors in the likely position of tying either New Jersey or Toronto for seventh-worst record, setting up unquestionably the most important coin flip in franchise history. The winner of that coin flip will have a better than 50-50 chance of retaining the seventh pick (or better) following the lottery.
With just one game remaining, the Warriors will tie the winner of Thursday’s Nets-Raptors game in the final standings if Golden State should lose that night at home to San Antonio.
It helps that, while calling myself a fan is a bit of a stretch, I did enjoy a game there last season with my son, and tend to follow their fortunes closer than those of any other NBA team, with the possible exception of Utah.

The NBA turns a blind eye to teams 'resting' players and obviously not trying to win meaningless games, quite different to the approach taken by football authorities (except in Italy of course, where big teams have a history of trying to determine which teams stay up). 

So the playoffs are set, which is always exciting, but excepting last season, seldom hugely lucrative for me. 

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers
No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 New York Knicks
No. 3 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 6 Orlando Magic
No. 5 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 4 Boston Celtics

Western Conference

No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets
No. 4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers

Note that the Hawks have home court advantage, despite having a lower seeding than Boston, who got the 4 seed by winning their division.

And on the question of significance or luck - not Andrew, but the random fluctuations of probability kind - BigAl said:

I've not done significance tests for years but I'm pretty sure you should be doing a "two tailed" test which, if i remember correctly, doubles the chance results are by chance in this type of analysis (not that I agree with the methodology as I believe the implied probability assumptions you have made to be incorrect)
From my recollection and understanding of statistics, when one has a specific theory such as "these matches will be draws, more often than the implied probability suggests" you use a one tailed test. Two tailed tests are used for more vague tests such as "is football more fun to trade than basketball?" where you do not have a specific guess.

1 comment:

BigAl said...

Well, it would probably be better to argue over it if a test were being performed in the right way on data meeting the right conditions.