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Zwiller: NBA post All-Star break predictions

| Monday, February 28, 2022

Back in my earlier days at the Observer, I split my time between the NFL and the NBA. The two leagues have always been my favorite leagues to watch, and, besides college basketball, I hardly watched anything else.

When I created the ZLO model, I focused predominantly on the NFL and left college football and all basketball behind. However, I was asked recently by some of the folks here at the Observer to branch out and see if I could come up with some more ways to utilize ZLO.

So next semester, I hope to try and apply ZLO to college football, intending to use it as a unique way of covering Notre Dame specifically. So, be on the lookout for those; I genuinely am excited about those projects.

But that’s all in the future, mainly because designing those systems will take a long time. It took me almost seven weeks to build the NFL ZLO, and I would imagine college football and basketball will be equally long and possibly more difficult.

So, for now, I thought it might be fun to dust off my NBA ZLO model and update it with this year’s stats.

The East

I honestly find the East to be the much more exciting conference of the two conferences. It feels like about seven different teams could wind up in the Finals, and it would surprise nobody.

Miami Heat

The Heat are presently ranked sixth in the NBA ZLO model but are projected to finish first in the regular-season standings with a record of 53-29.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls are (apart from the Cleveland Cavaliers) the surprise team of the East this year. Most people projected them to be a middle-of-the-road squad going into the year, but ZLO has them finishing second in the East at 51-31.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics have been great since the start of 2022, improving their defense dramatically. ZLO has them finishing 49-33 as the highest-graded East team (a little too high on them, in my opinion).

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs are a young, fun team that can be incredibly good in the future and make a deep playoff run in the present. ZLO has them as the third-best team in the East (7th overall), finishing 49-33.

Milwaukee Bucks

The defending champions may not have looked as dominant this season as they have in the past, but in a conference that feels largely uncertain, the Bucks are quite possibly the safest pick to win the conference. ZLO has them third in a four-way tie, finishing with a record of 49-33.

Philadelphia 76ers

I expect Philly (11th overall) to rise rapidly as they play James Harden more. The 76ers looked electric in their first game with both Joel Embiid and Harden. The spacing that Embiid will get with Harden present on the court should terrify other teams. While they are projected to finish 49-33, I would not be surprised to see them with 50-plus wins.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are currently only one game ahead of the Nets, and while ZLO may have them finishing at 44-38 (which would be two games ahead of the Nets), with the Nets activating Ben Simmons and Kyrie Irving after getting clearance from the state of New York, don’t be surprised if Toronto slides a spot.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets are a very similar team to Philly in that I expect their win-loss projection to increase as we see Simmons and Irving play more games together on the court. The trickiest part in projecting the team (currently 42-20, 15th overall) will be seeing how Simmons meshes with the squad.

The West

Phoenix Suns

The Suns’ performance is not at all surprising; I expected nothing less from the Phoenix after their finals run last season. The only surprise is that Phoenix is presently ranked second overall by the model despite a projected first-place finish at 66-16.

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors finally got Klay Thompson back after missing him for the past two seasons with both a torn ACL and achilles, and the results were worth the wait. The Warriors are a force to be reckoned with, and ZLO currently has them as the best team in the NBA with an expected finish of 60-22.

Memphis Grizzlies

What a fun, young team. I am absolutely in love with Ja Morant; his unique athletic abilities make watching Memphis games an absolute delight (something I never thought I would say). Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers, this squad has incredible potential down the road yet is excellent right now. ZLO has them as the third-best team in the West and NBA. The Grizzlies should finish with a 57-25 record.

Utah Jazz

The Jazz certainly have taken a step back this season, which is to be expected considering how good they were last year. I see them finishing no higher than fourth, but I could easily see them slide into fifth if Luka Doncic stays hot. ZLO (which ranks the Jazz fifth overall) has the Jazz putting some distance between them and the Mavericks, finishing 53-29.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks did not have the best start to the season, hovering around .500, but seem to have improved since then and now sit ten games above .500. ZLO has them maintaining that pace, finishing with a record of 47-35.

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are a solid squad right now, with Nikola Jokic continuing his MVP caliber play. If Denver had Jamal Murray, they would be a serious contender for a championship. Without him, ZLO has Denver at 12th in the NBA, on track to finish 46-36

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minnesota is currently seventh in the West and could easily slide past the Clippers. ZLO has them finishing just two games ahead of the Clippers, so it is highly possible.

Los Angeles Clippers

The fact that the Clippers are .500 without Kawhi Leonard is truly a testament to the Clippers organization. If Leonard should return (a strong possibility), the Clippers can be a hard out in the playoffs. That, of course, is assuming they make it out of the play-in. ZLO has them finishing at 40-42, firmly in the play-in, so that could be easier said than done.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Thomas Zwiller

Thomas is a sophomore currently in attendance at Holy Cross College, studying Business and Theology He is from Saint Joseph MI, and went to high school at Saint Joe SB, playing both varsity football and hockey. Feel free to contact him about all things NFL and NBA.

Contact Thomas