Ranking NBA first-round series by upset potential

  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus series
  • Formerly a consultant with the Indiana Pacers
  • Developed WARP rating and SCHOENE system

After an unpredictable regular season, which lower-seeded NBA teams are most likely to pull upsets in the first round of the playoffs?

This year’s bracket may force us to reconsider our definition of the term. Typically, when I’ve ranked the first-round series in terms of the chances of the team without home-court advantage winning, those have in fact meant upsets. But this year, two lower seeds (the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks and the No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers) are favored to win their series according to Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill. For our purposes, we’ll stick with defining upsets by seeding.

Should the Hawks and Lakers be favored? And which lower seeds are most likely to join them in advancing to the second round? Let’s break down all eight series based on projections from ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI).

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