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Who Will Win the 2015 NBA Finals?

Which team will grab the trophy? Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Which team will grab the trophy?
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After a tumultuous start to the season, LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29) to a strong finish and a seat in the 2015 NBA Finals. However, LeBron James' Cavaliers face an uphill battle in the form of the league's best regular season team, the Golden State Warriors (67-15).  

Cleveland has lost just two playoff games entering the NBA Finals, sweeping two series 4-0, and defeating the Chicago Bulls 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Golden State has maintained its great regular season play, dropping just three playoff games on its road to the NBA Finals.  

Golden State lost nine games during the second half of the regular season. So, you ask, how many games did Cleveland lose in the second half?  Nine.  It is notable that LeBron's teammate, Kevin Love was injured early in the playoffs and will miss the remainder of the season.

In many ways, the odds are stacked against the aging superstar, LeBron James.  In addition to facing the league's best regular-season team, James is facing "father time" -- and without star teammate Kevin Love.  However, the Cavalier's second half -- and run through the playoffs (much of it without Love), has been remarkable.  The 2015 NBA Finals truly gives LeBron James an opportunity to advance his legacy amongst the GOATs (greatest of all time).  Of course, Golden State star Stephen Curry is in the prime of his career and will have something to say...

There are many story lines for this year's NBA Finals, but what do the "quant facts" say?  Since our "Who Will Win the Big Game" book came out several years ago, our published "quant fact" predictions have picked the winner of major sporting events 62% of the time, regularly picking underdogs. A portion of our research studies factors related to sports psychology, including: big game experience, leadership, focus on fundamentals, and consistency. Over the past several decades, the factors we quantified have been related to winning championships about 60%-70% of the time.

Big Game Experience: Neither team has made a finals appearance over the past three years, so there is technically no edge in this category.  Some sports fans would give this factor to LeBron James and Cleveland, but we will go with our objective measures. Edge: None. 

Defense: Across all major sports we have studied, defense does indeed win championships.  Earlier, we cited stats such as second half and playoff results. Although these stats made the series appear very close, our data goes back over several decades -- and across all major sports.  The team with the better defense has won 60% of NBA Finals over the past 25 years.  Cleveland yielded 98.7 opponent points per game versus 99.9 for Golden State.  Edge: Cleveland.  

Leadership: The team with the higher-scoring star has won almost two-thirds of NBA Finals.  LeBron James led Cleveland with 25.3 points per game, while Stephen Curry led Golden State with 23.8.  The two superstars have very different styles, so it should make for a very interesting NBA Championship Series! Edge: Cleveland.

Minimizing Errors: Playing at a high level while minimizing errors is a key to winning. The team with fewer turnovers has won a huge 76% of NBA Championships.  This factor favors Cleveland yet again. Naysayers may point to the Warriors' league-leading game pace, but we will stick with the numbers. Edge: Cleveland.

In summary, the championship traits favor Cleveland over Golden State 3-0. This is a bold prediction, since Golden State is favored by Las Vegas sports books.  Still, we are going with LeBron James and the "quant facts."  

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Carlton Chin is a fund manager, MIT-trained quantitative analyst, and co-author of “Who Will Win the Big Game?" He has been quoted by the Wall St. Journal, New York Times, and ESPN -- and worked with the Sacramento Kings on the 2014 NBA Draft. Dr. Jay Granat is the co-author of the "Who Will Win" book and owner of StayInTheZone.com.    

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