Posted by Neil Paine on November 29, 2010
Because the much-hyped 2011 Miami Heat have had such a bizarre season so far (they apparently have a knack for whipping bad teams but losing close games to good opponents), we've had to think harder about the nature of blowouts. For instance, are they really very predictive if they come against weak opponents?
Adapting an old Football Outsiders study to the NBA, I found that the answer is actually 'yes'. I also found that a team ranking system which gives a lot of weight to blowouts is more predictive than one which places less emphasis on lopsided games.
Now BBR reader "Anon x 2" asks another question:
"What if being blown out means a lot more than blowing someone out?"
Let's take a look using roughly the same methodology as the "Guts and Stomps" article.
For every game since the merger, I recorded the season winning percentages of the teams involved, and the game's home-court adjusted scoring margin (I added 3.5 pts to the road team's margin and subtracted 3.5 from the home team's, since handicappers typically give 3.5 pts to the home squad in any given game).
Wins of 10 or more points (after applying the HCA adjustment) were classified as "blowouts"; losses of 10+ pts were considered cases of being "blown out". I tallied these up for every team that made the Conference Finals, and I also broke them down into four subcategories: blowouts of good (.500 or better) teams, blowouts of bad (sub-.500) teams, times blown out by good teams, and times blown out by bad teams.
Finally, I looked at all 102 NBA and Conference Finals since the 1977 merger, comparing each combatant's regular-season totals in the aforementioned categories. Here are the series records of the teams that were superior in each category:
|Category||Conf Finals||NBA Finals||Total|
|More Total Blowouts||39-27 (.591)||21-11 (.656)||60-38 (.612)|
|More Blowouts of Good Teams||39-24 (.619)||19-11 (.633)||58-35 (.624)|
|More Blowouts of Bad Teams||34-30 (.531)||21-12 (.636)||55-42 (.567)|
|Fewer Total Times Blown Out||30-28 (.517)||22-8 (.733)||52-36 (.591)|
|Fewer Times Blown Out by Good Teams||33-28 (.541)||22-9 (.710)||55-37 (.598)|
|Fewer Times Blown Out by Bad Teams||31-23 (.574)||13-11 (.542)||44-34 (.564)|
In the Conference Finals, being able to blow away opponents, particularly good ones, is more predictive of success than the ability to avoid being blown out (although avoiding blowouts by bad opponents is apparently better than blowing them out, all else being equal). In the Finals, this phenomenon shifts a bit -- teams that avoid being blown out have actually fared better than teams that racked up a lot of blowouts. Overall, though, once you reach the NBA's Final Four, the team with more regular-season blowouts tends to win the series more often than the team that was better at avoiding blowouts.