Lakers Tougher Potential Playoff Opponent than Utah

The Jazz may have higher playoff odds, but it's Kobe's squad who would put up the tougher first round series.

This morning on Sportscenter, you may have seen numberFire's name mentioned in connection with NBA Playoff odds. As it stands, we give Utah a 48.1 percent chance at becoming the eight seed, with the Lakers holding only a 32.1 percent chance. The Dallas Mavericks, currently two games behind the Jazz, are in the single digits and not truly likely to make the big run.

That 48 percent for Utah is no joke, especially with New Orleans, two against Minnesota, and a not-as-great-as-you'd-think Golden State left to play down the stretch. The Lakers have a similar schedule, and all but one of their games will be in Los Angeles, but having to play both the Spurs and Clippers is never easy. Add to that the Utah tiebreaker, and all signs point to some playoff games in Utah

However, that's not what I'm interested in. The bigger question to me is who I should be rooting for? Which team would give the No. 1 seed a better series?

We decided to fire up the projections machine one more time to find out. And as you might expect from looking at our NBA Team Power Rankings, the Lakers would make for a much closer series.

Jazz/Spurs - 20 percent upset chance

Series LengthSpurs Win ChanceJazz Win Chance
4 Games16.00%1.67%
5 Games26.79%4.10%
6 Games19.80%7.20%
7 Games17.02%7.42%

One quick note: yes, I'm fully aware that the Thunder could be the top seed in the West, and a lot will be determined by the results of Thursday's head-to-head matchup in OKC. However, that's not the focus here, and the odds wouldn't change that much between the Spurs and Thunder anyway. I only want to know the odds changes between the Jazz and Lakers of pulling an upset.

For the Jazz, those odds aren't too solid. Especially in the current Western Conference, it's almost inconceivable that a playoff team would give up more points per possession (PPP) than they allow. But with the Jazz, they could very well get there: their offensive and defensive efficiencies are equal at exactly 1.071 PPP.

Going up against the Spurs, that's not a good recipe. San Antonio holds the third-largest net point efficiency in the NBA, behind only the Heat and the Thunder. With their No. 7 offense and No. 3 defense, they score 7.8 more points per 100 possessions than they allow. Especially considering that they average 93.9 possessions per 48 minutes, the seventh-quickest pace in the NBA, that's not a bad average.

Even San Antonio's main weakness - their next-to-last 20.6 percent offensive rebound rate - doesn't match up with the Jazz well. Despite their plethora of big men, Utah actually only grabs 73.0 percent of defensive rebounds, 22nd in the NBA. Al Jefferson may sit 14th in the NBA with a personal 25.4 DRB%, but neither Paul Millsap (19.1%) nor Enes Kanter (18.6%) grab more than 20 percent of available defensive rebounds.

Lakers/Spurs - 27 percent upset chance

Series LengthSpurs Win ChanceLakers Win Chance
4 Games11.82%2.40%
5 Games23.69%5.45%
6 Games19.02%10.57%
7 Games18.32%8.72%

On the flip side, the Lakers might not hold overwhelming odds against the Spurs, but at least they'd win more than one-quarter of the time given enough series. And unlike Utah's win odds, which would see Game 7 as the most likely victory spot, L.A. holds a double-digit percentage chance of winning in six.

Look at the efficiencies, and this percentage increase is about as surprising as Kobe's late-season intensity. The Lakers sit ninth in the NBA with 1.077 points scored per possession; the Jazz sit 10th. The Lakers sit a below-average 20th on defense with 1.068 points allowed per possession, but the Jazz sit 21st. These two teams are close, but the Lakers edge them out seemingly everywhere.

The Lakers' strengths and weaknesses line up better against San Antonio as well. Remember that poor Utah defensive rebounding percentage? Well the Lakers have that part of their game covered: their 73.9 percent rate sits 10th in the NBA. Dwight Howard's sixth-best 28.0 DRB% will make sure that number stays up.

Meanwhile, the Lakers' main weakness - a next-to-last 12.0 percent turnovers forced rate - isn't as big of a problem against San Antonio. The Spurs turn the ball over themselves on 14.0 percent of offensive possessions, a below-average 19th in the league. Manu Ginobili and DeJuan Blair just can't hold onto the ball: both have turned the ball over on at least 17 percent of possessions on which they touch the ball.