After yesterday’s loss to the Boston Celtics, the Heat are now 0-6 against the five top teams in the league in win percentage. Most of those losses have been close, but is the Heat’s record against close teams a harbinger of their eventual playoff downfall? Basketball Reference’s Neil Paine has some data that says otherwise:
Here’s the breakdown since the merger (1977-2010):
The team with the better regular-season WPct vs. top-5 teams won the series 65.9% of the time.
The team with the better regular-season WPct vs. top-10 teams won the series 71.8% of the time.
The team with the better WPct vs. teams outside the top 10 won the series 73.2% of the time.
The team with the better regular-season pt diff vs. top-5 teams won the series 69.1% of the time.
The team with the better regular-season pt diff vs. top-10 teams won the series 73.0% of the time.
The team with the better pt diff vs. teams outside the top 10 won the series 71.7% of the time.
The team that played Game 1 at home won the series 74.1% of the time.
The data supports a fairly basic statistical theory: more data is better than less data, and a team’s record against the other 29 teams in the league is more telling than its success against four other teams in the league.
This is one of those things that will be remembered if the Heat lose and forgotten if they won. When the Warriors upset the Mavericks, their 4-0 record against Dallas in the regular season looked like a prophecy. Last season, the Magic took little comfort in their 3-1 regular season record against the Celtics after losing two straight home games to them. The season before that, the fact that the Cavaliers hadn’t lost a single road game to an Eastern Conference team when LeBron James played didn’t stop the Magic from beating them at home in game one.
We’d love to be able to think that regular-season meetings between teams likely to meet in the playoffs can help us predict what will happen in those series, but nothing can change that every playoff series starts with a blank slate.