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Why Game 3 Is Extremely Important

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came across John Hollinger's PER Diem article today on ESPN.com and it was a fascinating read, to say the least. To quickly summarize, Hollinger points out that the Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, and Los Angeles Lakers each are statistical locks to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Ultimately, the question in the post becomes, "who will join them?"

Cue in Orlando and Philadelphia.

In first-round best-of-seven series, road teams that earned a split in the first two games have won only five series in 15 tries -- a surprising record of failure to take advantage of their newfound home-court advantage.

Which means that the Sixers would have a 33% chance of advancing to the second round. Low odds, indeed. But there's more.

But if you throw out all the series involving No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, that record improves from 5-10 to 4-4, which puts us back into toss-up land for four of the five series that are tied in this postseason. And you can argue that the Chicago-Boston matchup belongs there, too, given that the Celtics' injury situation makes them far less imposing than a typical No. 2 seed.

The odds improve for Philadelphia, in this case, to 50%. I'm sure any follower of the Sixers would be satisfied with those odds, while any follower of the Magic would not be satisfied with those odds. How so? Well, not many experts were giving Philadelphia a chance in the series, at all. Nearly every, if not all the analysts felt Orlando would dispatch of their oppon ent in swift fashion. Clearly that hasn't been the case, as the Sixers have proven they can matchup with the Magic. Moving on.

Let's delve a little deeper. First of all, there's an interesting story here with scoring margin. Of the 15 series that were tied 1-1, the visiting team had been outscored in the first two games in 14 of them; in the one exception, the visiting team had only a plus-1 advantage.

But this year, we have one road team with an enormous point differential: Houston is plus-23 after the first two games. The four other situations are more typical: Dallas is minus-13, Miami is minus-11, Philadelphia is minus-7 and Chicago is minus-1.

Since our sample size of first-round best-of-seven series is limited, I expanded the lens to take in best-of-seven series from any round in the past 15 years, giving us 20 cases to look at in which the road team outscored the opponent while splitting the first two games. And after adding those in, we see immediately that scoring margin is important.

The road teams that were ahead in point differential after two games went on to win the series 11 of 20 times, and in only two of the 20 cases were they eliminated before Game 7; in both of those cases, they were playing against Michael Jordan.

As for the other four teams, the news isn't encouraging. Teams that trailed in point differential after two games went on to win the series just 10 times in 28 tries, or a little better than one in three. Even teams with a very small negative scoring margin lost a disproportionate number of times.

The last statistic bodes well for Orlando, given the fact (as Hollinger points out) the Sixers are -7 in point differential after the first two games. The exact odds for Philadelphia, at this point, are 36%. It's intriguing how the odds decrease or increase as you specify the sample size.

But wait, we're just getting started. All of these odds will shift dramatically once the final whistle blows in Game 3. In fact, the winner of Game 3 takes the series 75.8 percent of the time after the two sides split the opening pair of games. And of course, the five teams that started on the road will all have home-court advantage for this pivotal contest.

I bolded the following statement because that's a huge number if your a Magic fan or Sixers fan. Obviously for Philadelphia, that number didn't mean much for the team last season in the playoffs versus Detroit because the Pistons lost Game 3 and still came back to win the series.

If you watched the Detroit/Philadelphia series last year, you may remember that the Pistons were merely toying with the Sixers to begin with. Once Detroit actually tried, the team quickly overwhelmed Philadelphia and advanced to the second round.

Make no mistake, Orlando does not want to dig themselves into a similar hole if they don't have to. Yes, if the Magic get their act together, the team has the ability to overwhelm the Sixers in similar fashion as the Pistons did if Orlando were down in the series, but there's no guarantee such a thing will occur.

If the Magic were to lose Game 3, the odds for Orlando to advance to the second round would be 24%. As I already mentioned, certainly there is precedence for the Magic to buck the trend against the Sixers, but given how the series has shaken out so far, it's clear that Game 3 is extremely important for both teams. Likewise, even if Orlando were to win tomorrow versus Philadelphia, can't consider the series a done deal yet. That's why there's upsets in the playoffs, because teams skew from the numbers, though that won't stop be from posting this last nugget (via WhoWins). 

In the 2008-09 regular season, Orlando finished 18 games ahead of Philadelphia. From 1947 through the 2008 NBA Finals, when NBA teams led their best-of-7 playoff series opponents by 18 regular-season games, they have posted a 2-0 (1.000) best-of-7 series record in those series against those opponents.

Small sample size, I know.

All in all, it'll be interesting to see how it all plays out.