PORTLAND, Ore. — It's me, your friendly neighborhood basketball nerd, here to inform you that pretty much everything is stacked against your Portland Trail Blazers right now.
Sorry to be a downer. Sorry to put a damper on the party that has been the city of Portland since the Blazers beat the Nuggets in Game 6 and forced a decisive Game 7 on Sunday in Denver.
It's just that the naysayers have some ammunition, folks. Try this one on for size. In their 50-year history, the Blazers have never won a Game 7 on the road. It is a small sample size — just two games — but it's still a zero in the win column.
Or how about this one? Home teams have won 105 of the 133 Game 7's in NBA playoff history. That's a 79% winning percentage. Unfortunately, Portland isn't the home team in this one, my friends.
Here's one more, just to put the nail in the coffin. The oddsmakers are favoring the Nuggets by 5.5 points in Game 7. That's a healthy margin for two teams that have been so evenly matched in this series (aside from that oddball Game 5).
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Is there any reason to believe the Blazers can buck history and punch their first Western Conference finals tickets in 18 seasons?
Well, 2K still believes. That's got to count for something.
To clarify, I can't speak for the wide world of 2K. But I can speak for my copy of NBA 2K19, sitting in the upstairs screening room in my house in Sherwood (I call it a "screening room" because I'm nerdy like that). And that game believes in the Blazers, big time.
If you'll remember, I started simulating games for this series back before Game 3, the epic quadruple-overtime game. My rules for 2K simulations are simple. No fudging player ratings, and no do-overs. One take. No cheating.
2K simulated a Blazers win in Game 3. And then losses in Games 4 and 5. After Portland was dismantled in real life in Game 5, I reluctantly fired up 2K and simmed Game 6. I held out some hope that the simulation gods would smile favorably on the Blazers. They were at home, after all. And to my pleasant surprise, 2K simulated a 119-94 win for Portland in Game 6.
I wrote an article for KGW.com about that simulation, in which I wrote that after I simmed Game 6, I also went ahead and simmed Game 7. I believe I called the result of that one a "doozy," and said I wouldn't share it unless the Blazers won Game 6.
Well, the Blazers won Game 6. And more than just win, they scored 119 points, matching the Blazers' point total that 2K had simmed. Kind of spooky.
If you're keeping track, my copy of 2K is undefeated. It's a perfect 4-0 since I started simming this series back before Game 3.
When I decided to just keep simming after the Game 6 simulation, I was not confident in another simulated victory for the Blazers. I fully expected my copy of 2K to turn on the Blazers, pledge its undying allegiance to the Nuggets, and send Denver on to the Western Conference Finals.
So, I hit "Simulate Game." One take. No cheating.
The result? Trail Blazers 105, Nuggets 96.
Let's take a look at what happened in this simulated game and extract what seems realistic and what stretches the limits of belief.
Low-scoring Game 7: In this series, the Nuggets are averaging 116 points per game, and the Blazers aren't far behind, at 113.2. But in this simulated Game 7, The Nuggets are held below 100 points, and the Blazers manage just 105. It's not completely unrealistic. Denver and San Antonio played a Game 7 in the first round, and the Nuggets won 90-86. Both scores were about 15 points below each team's series average.
Denver goes cold: 2K has the Nuggets shooting well enough from the field (44%) and free-throw line (79%), but misfiring from the 3-point line (10 of 33 for 30%). The Blazers, meanwhile, make 15 of 34 3-pointers (44%). These percentages aren't unrealistic. Both teams have shown a propensity for streaky shooting in this series.
Nuggets live at the line: Denver has a big advantage at the free-throw line in this simulated game, taking 28 free throws to the Blazers' 10. The Blazers survive this by shooting better, and by forcing turnovers (Denver has 19) and getting offensive rebounds (11), which creates 18 more field-goal attempts for Portland (90 to 72). This seems realistic. Denver has homecourt advantage in this game, which usually means a free-throw advantage.
IT strikes again: Since I simulated this game right after I simulated Game 7, I noticed the same issue from the Game 6 simulation. I did check to make sure the Blazers' rotations were on point, but I didn't do that for the Nuggets, and 2K has Isaiah Thomas in Denver's rotation. He's not. But in this simulated game, he played 16 minutes and scored five points. Not realistic.
Minutes distribution: This is a Game 7. If anything, both coaches will shorten their rotations and increase the minutes of their top players. That's the biggest hiccup with this simulation, is it didn't factor that into the equation. These minute totals are way too low: Nikola Jokic 36 minutes, Damian Lillard 32 minutes, CJ McCollum 31 minutes, Paul Millsap 29 minutes, Jamal Murray 28 minutes, Gary Harris 26 minutes. This miscalculation equally impacts each team, so it probably doesn't affect the result of the simulation, but it's still a misstep in 2K's algorithm.
I should repeat that I understand this is just one simulation in a video game. I know it has no basis in reality. I'm a rational person. I derive meaning from logic and facts and statistics and data.
On the other hand, this particular ongoing simulation has been eerily prescient. I'm not a superstitious person. But here I am, wondering if all of this actually means something.
Superstitions are funny. Or weird. Former Phillies star Richie Ashburn, a two-time batting champion in the 1950s, would cuddle with his bat at night when he was on a hot streak at the plate. Former Argentinian goalkeeper Sergio Goycochea would pee himself during penalty shots, he said to calm his nerves. (That's gross.)
Am I starting to give in to superstition with these simulations? Do I believe they're somehow connected to future reality? No, of course not. Come on. Let's be serious here, friends.
Then again, if the Blazers win Game 7, I can promise you I'll be firing up my copy of 2K to see what future it foretells for the Blazers against the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.