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Playoffs 2019

2019 NBA Bracket Challenge: tips for filling out the perfect playoff bracket, winning million dollar Grand Prize

The bracket is set for the 2019 NBA Playoffs which means it's time to make your own bracket predictions.

You can enter right here for a chance to win a million dollars and a trip to the 2020 All-Star Game in Chicago as part of the Bracket Challenge.

Fill out the perfect bracket - including the winner and total number of games in each series - for your shot at the million dollar Grand Prize.

Of course, picking the perfect bracket is a tall order which is why we dug through the previous years to find some key tips and tricks to increase your odds of winning big!

Unless otherwise stated, all trends below are since 1983-84 which is when the NBA went to a 16-team playoff format with eight teams from each conference.

Quick Hitters

Here are the nuts and bolts:

  • 1-seeds have historically been over three times more likely to win the NBA title than 2-seeds
  • Only one of the last 35 NBA champions have been seeded outside the the top three
  • 5-seeds have a winning record against 4-seeds in the 1st Round
  • On average, there are three sweeps per postseason
  • There has been a sweep in the 1st Round in each of the last 15 years
  • On average, there have been three Game 7s per postseason
  • The top four seeds in each conference have advanced to the Conference Semifinals just five times in 35 years
  • The most common Conference Finals matchup is the 1-seed vs 2-seed; however, it's happened just 44% of the time

Full details and explanations are below along with far more context for each and every quick hitter. So if you want the complete background, keep reading.

Picking an NBA Champion

Let's start simple.

The first rule to picking an NBA champion: don't get cute.

34 of the 35 champions have been a top-3 seed with the 1 seeds claiming 23 of them. The Warriors won it all as a 2-seed last season, ending a five-year run by top seeds.

Despite the Warriors winning it all last season, 1-seeds have been over three times as likely to win the title than 2-seeds.

NBA Champions Since 1984
Seed Champions
1 seed 23
2 seed 7
3 seed 4
6 seed 1

That said, there's been more parity of late.

From 1984 through 2000, 14 of the 17 champions were 1-seeds. Since 2001, only half of the eventual champions have been one of the top seeds.

The only team to win it all coming from out of the top-3 seeds is the 1994-95 Rockets. They, of course, weren't your ordinary 6-seed as they were the defending champions, featured the reigning MVP in Hakeem Olajuwon and traded for Clyde Drexler halfway through the season.

Choosing Your 1st Round Upsets

Tread carefully if you want to pick a top-2 seed to lose early as it's only happened ten times in 35 years.

Where the real value lies in the 1st Round is in the 4-5 series. Though not truly an upset given it's typically two very evenly matched teams, 4-seeds actually have a losing record.

It's been over a decade since both of the 4-seeds advanced to the Conference Semifinals as it last happened in 2008.

1st Round Matchups
Matchup W-L Win Pct
1 vs 8 65-5 .929
2 vs 7 65-5 .929
3 vs 6 52-18 .743
4 vs 5 32-38 .457

Don't go chalk in both conferences.

The top four seeds in both the East and West haven't all advanced out of the 1st Round since 2008 and it's only happened five times total over the last 35 years.

There's been an average of two upsets in the 1st Round over the last nine seasons.

The Conference Finals

There have been 70 total Conference Finals matchups since the NBA adopted a 16-team playoff format for the 1984 postseason.

Typically, at least one of the top seeds reaches the Conference Finals. Over the last 35 years, the 1-seed in the East had gotten there 30 times while the 1-seed in the East has gotten there 29 times.

Here's an exhaustive list of the seeding matchups, sorted from most common to least common. The record in parenthesis is for the higher seed in those matchups

  • 1-seed vs 2-seed: 31 times (15-16)
  • 1-seed vs 3-seed: 24 times (20-4)
  • 2-seed vs 4-seed: 4 times (1-3)
  • 1-seed vs 6-seed: 3 times (2-1)
  • 2-seed vs 5-seed: 3 times (3-0)
  • 3-seed vs 4-seed: 2 times (2-0)
  • 1-seed vs 7-seed: 1 time (1-0)
  • 2-seed vs 8-seed: 1 time (0-1)
  • 3-seed vs 5-seed: 1 time (1-0)

The only year under the current playoff format in which neither top seed advanced to the Conference Finals was 1994 when we had a 2-5 matchup in both the East and the West.

Although going chalk with the top two seeds is the safest play and most common outcome, it's happened less than 50% of the time.

If you do end up pitting the top two teams from each conference in your bracket, consider he following: the 1-seeds have almost zero advantage.

In fact, among all of the times they have played in the Conference Finals, the 2-seeds actually have come out on top more often (16) than the 1-seeds (15).

How many sweeps are there?

In order to truly pick the perfect bracket, you need to correctly pick not only series winners, but the length of each series as well.

Which means knowing how many sweeps to pick and when to pick them.

For the purposes of this exercise, we're going to only look at since the 2002-03 season which is when the NBA went to a best-of-7 series for every round. Since every series went to a best-of-7, 44 of the 240 overall series (18%) have been sweeps with at least one in every postseason.

On average, there have been 2.8 sweeps per year so when filling out that perfect bracket, three is the number to hit. That's how many there were in two of the last three seasons while there were a whopping five of them in the 2017 postseason.

This probably isn't much of a surprise, but the 1st Round is home to by far the most. Therew has been at least one of them in the 1st Round in each of the last 15 seasons with the 1-seeds (11) and 2-seeds (9) accounting for the vast majority.

Sweeps Since 2003
Round Sweeps
1st Round 26
Conference Semifinals 12
Conference Finals 4
NBA Finals 2

So a word to the wise: if you're looking to go perfect, pick at least three total sweeps with at at minimum one of them occurring in the opening round.

What about Game 7s?

Over the same time frame - since 2002-03 - there have been more series to go to a Game 7 than there have been to end in a sweep.

Overall, the average number of Game 7s per postseason is 3.1. Since you obviously can't pick a decimal, the best bet is to round down and pick three of them to go the distance.

Which matchups should you pick?

Of the 50 total Game 7s, half of them have come in the 1st Round with the most common matchup being the 3-seed vs 6-seed (six times) which is slightly more common than either the 2-v-7 matchup (five times) or 4-v-5 matchup (five times).

There's no discernible trend in terms of them being far more common in latter rounds, so outside of picking at least one in the opening round, the more critical number to keep in mind is that overall average of 3.1 per postseason.

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