Posted by Neil Paine on February 14, 2011
Despite their high overall marks, apparently neither the Lakers nor the Heat can beat the league's other so-called "elite" teams. Miami is just 6-9 this season against teams in the top 10 in W-L%, and 0-6 against top-5 teams. The Lakers are barely better, going 6-7 vs. top-10 squads and 2-6 against the top 5. Here's a summary of the other teams in the top 10 by either W-L% or point differential:
|Team||Ovr W%||Ovr PD||W% v Top10||W% v Top5||PD v Top10||PD v Top5|
|San Antonio Spurs||0.833||7.26||0.688||0.600||4.72||5.75|
|Los Angeles Lakers||0.691||6.53||0.462||0.250||-1.53||-5.14|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||0.642||1.74||0.471||0.300||-2.44||-6.75|
|New Orleans Hornets||0.589||2.29||0.476||0.500||-2.10||-4.27|
The conventional wisdom tells us that this is going to be a problem for Miami and L.A. come playoff time. But is that actually true? Do teams with better records vs. the NBA's top teams win postseason series more often?
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.
In other words, knowing how a team performed vs. elite teams actually tells you less about who wins a playoff series than a team's record against all teams, even non-elite teams. Team records vs. the cream of the crop certainly sound meaningful, but when it comes to predicting success or failure in the playoffs, you'd be better off knowing how they did against the entire league.
UPDATE: Here's the same study, but with 1st-round games removed and the results split up by which team had the home-court advantage in the series: