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Extra Pass: Should the Eastern Conference elite worry about the red-hot Brooklyn Nets?

Apr 8, 2014, 8:44 AM EDT

Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Mason Plumlee, Joe Johnson Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Mason Plumlee, Joe Johnson

The Miami Heat host the Brooklyn Nets tonight in a matchup of the Eastern Conference’s best team vs. … the Eastern Conference’s best team?

The Heat are 53-23, the conference’s best record. But the Nets are 32-13 since New Year’s, the conference’s best record in the 2014 calendar year.

Should that make Brooklyn the new conference favorite? Do recent results tell us more about playoff chances than results colored by games several months ago?

Probably not and probably not.

Since the NBA adopted a 16-team playoff format in 1984, 42 series have featured one team with a better overall record (what we’ll call the better team) and a different team with a better record since New Year’s (what we’ll call the hotter team).

Of those 42 series, the better team won 28 (67 percent).

This makes sense on a couple levels.

1. More data is usually better. Although it seems the Nets have made real progress by switching to a small-ball lineup, they were still the Nets in 2013. A flip of the calendar – even when it coincides with a pretty big style change – doesn’t completely invalidate those 2013 games. Brooklyn probably comes closer to this reason not carrying water than the average hot team, but I don’t think we can discount it completely.

2. This, I suspect, is more important. The NBA awards homecourt advantage to the team with a better overall record, not the better record since New Year’s. So, the better team always has that advantage over the hotter team. The Nets, zeroing in on the No. 5 seed, probably won’t have homecourt advantage for even a single round.

Here is the complete history of the better vs. hotter matchups since 1984. The better team is blue, and the hot team is red (overall record, win percentage | record since New Year’s, win percentage).

  • 2013 WC Finals: Spurs (58-24, .707 | 33-16, .673) def. Grizzlies (56-26, .683 | 37-17, .685)
  • 2012 EC First Round: Celtics (39-27, .591 | 38-24, .613) def. Hawks (40-26, .606 | 37-25, .597)
  • 2011 WC Finals: Mavericks (57-25, .695 | 33-18, .647) def. Thunder (55-27, .671 | 32-16, .667)
  • 2010 WC Finals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Suns (54-28, .659 | 33-16, .673)
  • 2010 WC Semifinals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Jazz (53-29, .646 | 35-15, .700)
  • 2010 EC First Round: Celtics (50-32, .610 | 27-24, .529) def. Heat (47-35, .573 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2010 EC First Round: Hawks (53-29, .646 | 32-19, .627) def. Bucks (46-36, .561 | 34-18, .654)
  • 2010 WC First Round: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 32-19, .627) def. Thunder (50-32, .610 | 32-18, .640)
  • 2008 WC Semifinals: Lakers (57-25, .695 | 38-14, .731) def. Jazz (54-28, .659 | 37-12, .755)
  • 2007 EC First Round: Bulls (49-33, .598 | 30-21, .588) def. Heat (44-38, .537 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2006 WC First Round: Clippers (47-35, .573 | 31-23, .574) def. Nuggets (44-38, .537 | 30-21, .588)
  • 2005 NBA Finals: Spurs (59-23, .720 | 34-17, .667) def. Pistons (54-28, .659 | 39-15, .722)
  • 2005 EC Finals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 39-15, .722) def. Heat (59-23, .720 | 35-16, .686)
  • 2005 WC Semifinals: Suns (62-20, .756 | 37-16, .698) def. Mavericks (58-24, .707 | 39-14, .736)
  • 2005 WC First Round: SuperSonics (52-30, .634 | 30-24, .556) def. Kings (50-32, .610 | 32-23, .582)
  • 2004 NBA Finals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 35-15, .700) def. Lakers (56-26, .683 | 35-19, .648)
  • 2004 WC First Round: Kings (55-27, .671 | 34-19, .642) def. Mavericks (52-30, .634 | 34-18, .654)
  • 2003 WC Semifinals: Mavericks (60-22, .732 | 35-17, .673) def. Kings (59-23, .720 | 36-14, .720)
  • 2003 EC First Round: 76ers (48-34, .585 | 29-22, .569) def. Hornets (47-35, .573 | 29-20, .592)
  • 2003 EC First Round: Nets (49-33, .598 | 26-24, .520) def. Bucks (42-40, .512 | 29-22, .569)
  • 2003 WC First Round: Lakers (50-32, .610 | 37-13, .740) def. Timberwolves (51-31, .622 | 34-17, .667)
  • 2002 EC First Round: Celtics (49-33, .598 | 31-22, .585) def. 76ers (43-39, .524 | 31-21, .596)
  • 2002 WC First Round: Lakers (58-24, .707 | 37-18, .673) def. Trail Blazers (49-33, .598 | 36-17, .679)
  • 2001 EC Finals: 76ers (56-26, .683 | 35-18, .660) def. Bucks (52-30, .634 | 36-17, .679)
  • 2001 EC First Round: Raptors (47-35, .573 | 32-20, .615) def. Knicks (48-34, .585 | 29-22, .569)
  • 2000 EC Semifinals: Knicks (50-32, .610 | 32-20, .615) def. Heat (52-30, .634 | 33-21, .611)
  • 1997 EC First Round: Knicks (57-25, .695 | 36-17, .679) def. Hornets (54-28, .659 | 38-15, .717)
  • 1994 NBA Finals: Rockets (58-24, .707 | 34-20, .630) def. Knicks (57-25, .695 | 39-18, .684)
  • 1994 EC First Round: Pacers (47-35, .573 | 37-19, .661) def. Magic (50-32, .610 | 34-20, .630)
  • 1994 WC First Round: Suns (56-26, .683 | 35-21, .625) def. Warriors (50-32, .610 | 36-19, .655)
  • 1993 EC Semifinals: Bulls (57-25, .695 | 36-18, .667) def. Cavaliers (54-28, .659 | 37-16, .698)
  • 1993 WC First Round: Spurs (49-33, .598 | 35-21, .625) def. Trail Blazers (51-31, .622 | 34-23, .596)
  • 1992 EC First Round: Knicks (51-31, .622 | 33-23, .589) def. Pistons (48-34, .585 | 33-19, .635)
  • 1991 WC Finals: Lakers (58-24, .707 | 41-15, .732) def. Trail Blazers (63-19, .768 | 36-15, .706)
  • 1990 EC Semifinals: Bulls (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667) def. 76ers (53-29, .646 | 38-16, .704)
  • 1990 WC First Round: Suns (54-28, .659 | 42-15, .737) def. Jazz (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667)
  • 1988 EC Semifinals: Pistons (54-28, .659 | 36-22, .621) def. Bulls (50-32, .610 | 35-20, .636)
  • 1987 WC First Round: Warriors (42-40, .512 | 25-26, .490) def. Jazz (44-38, .537 | 25-28, .472)
  • 1985 NBA Finals: Lakers (62-20, .756 | 40-10, .800) def. Celtics (63-19, .768 | 37-13, .740)
  • 1984 WC Semifinals: Suns (41-41, .500 | 26-25, .510) def. Jazz (45-37, .549 | 25-26, .490)
  • 1984 EC First Round: Nets (45-37, .549 | 31-20, .608) def. 76ers (52-30, .634 | 31-23, .574)
  • 1984 WC First Round: Mavericks (43-39, .524 | 27-25, .519) def. SuperSonics (42-40, .512 | 29-24, .547)

However, there might be a matter of degrees at play. Can a team be hot enough to overcome not being as good at its opponent?

To assess, I came up with a Heat Rating:

((hotter team’s advantage in win percentage after New Year’s) minus (better team’s advantage in win percentage overall))*82

In all three series with a Heat Rating above 3.5, the hotter team won:

  • 5.0, 2003 WC First Round: Lakers (50-32, .610 | 37-13, .740) def. Timberwolves (51-31, .622 | 34-17, .667)
  • 4.8, 1990 WC First Round: Suns (54-28, .659 | 42-15, .737) def. Jazz (55-27, .671 | 36-18, .667)
  • 3.9, 1985 NBA Finals: Lakers (62-20, .756 | 40-10, .800) def. Celtics (63-19, .768 | 37-13, .740)

This season, the Spurs, Clippers and Rockets are both better and hotter than the Nets (42-34, .553 | 32-13, .711).

Of the 10 potential Brooklyn playoff opponents with better overall records, just four are on pace to create a series with a Heat Rating above even 0.5. And only three, all in the West, trump the 3.5 standard.

Potential opponent
Heat Rating
Phoenix Suns (46-31, 0.597 | 27-20, 0.574) 7.5
Portland Trail Blazers (50-28, 0.641 | 25-21, 0.543) 6.5
Dallas Mavericks (47-31, 0.603 | 29-18, 0.617) 3.6
Toronto Raptors (45-32, 0.584 | 31-17, 0.646) 2.7

There are many factors, including matchups and injuries, that lead to playoff upsets. But if you’re going to predict the Nets will beat anyone in this year’s playoffs – unless they get to the Finals and play the Suns, Trail Blazers or Mavericks – you better come with a stronger argument than just Brooklyn’s post-New Year’s record.

  1. RavenzGunnerz - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    No

    • trevor123698 - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:41 PM

      well you are going to watch it happen. the nets will win the east

  2. timb12 - Apr 8, 2014 at 9:17 AM

    Great article.

  3. miamatt - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:04 AM

    The one thing you can say about the Nets is they have so many guys who can hit shots in big moments. Pierce, Garnett, Johnson, Williams… and that gives them a chance to win any close game.

    I can’t see them beating the Heat, though they could push them, maybe even to six games. The Pacers… I still have trouble believing they won’t right the ship to some degree in the postseason, at least defensively. But they most definitely are lacking in scoring options for late game situations. I’d give the Nets a puncher’s chance in that matchup, though I’d still take Indiana to advance.

    • bougin89 - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:57 AM

      I’m pretty much in complete agreement with you here. The postseason is another season. I think the Pacers will get back to playing well.

      The Nets not only have a few guys that can hit big shots but they have multiple guys that can really take over a game at times. They have more game changing players(and they’re finally playing well together) than any other team with the exception of Miami.

  4. philtration - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Let’s see….
    A team playing really well going into the playoffs.
    A team with players that do not just have playoff experience but playoff success under their belts.

    Yes.
    And anyone that does not know why knows little about the game.

  5. romestar82 - Apr 8, 2014 at 11:36 AM

    picked the Nets to win it all in the beginning of the season (I’m a Lakers fan BTW)laid 100 on it too ,for a minute I was looking like a fool ,friends laughing at me for making such a stupid bet ….well they ain’t laughing too much now !!! Let’s go Nets ! Make me look like the genius I am !

    • theromeo2k - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:06 PM

      Liked for the sense of humor.

    • nykfanwakemeupin2015 - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:47 PM

      You do this in Football not basketball. The only cinderella stories that happen are in the first round.

  6. antistratfordian - Apr 8, 2014 at 1:13 PM

    The playoffs are not really about being very hot or very good – you can win it all without being the hottest or the best team, depending on other things (talent + the amount of games a core has played together).

    The Nets combination of playoff experience together + talent level is not enough to challenge a team like Miami in a playoff series – one with more talent whose core has been through every playoff condition imaginable. So it probably wouldn’t have mattered if the the Nets were a 60 win team that was 37-8 since January.

    As it is, I don’t think Brooklyn would even make it out of the first round against Chicago.

  7. jbeagles23 - Apr 8, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    The things going against Brooklyn is that their doing this with small ball. No one beats the heat that way

    • pharohislife - Apr 8, 2014 at 2:16 PM

      But they have beat them 3 times already this season. It’s clear that they give the Heat problems. And it’s weird cause the Nets play small ball but they’re still big while playing small. D-Will is a huge Point Guard then you got a 6’7 Livingston with him, I’ve already seen those two guys give the Miami guards trouble this year. Then Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce are strong, solid guys. And KG may be a Power-Forward playing the Center position, but people don’t realize KG is 7 feet tall. They’ve got a big small ball line-up if that makes sense.

      • theromeo2k - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:09 PM

        Makes total sense.

      • bougin89 - Apr 8, 2014 at 5:22 PM

        You do make sense. You can throw Andre Kirilenko in as a “large” small ball player as well. He’s still decently athletic and just incredibly long. When he plays the 3 or 4 they really aren’t getting shorter but they can still play “smaller” too.

      • Kevin S. - Apr 8, 2014 at 7:12 PM

        They beat them twice by one and once in double OT. It’s not like they mopped them three times. Being basically evenly matched in head-to-head doesn’t mean we throw out the results from the other 70-odd games. I’m as big of a Nets fan as there is, but short of a key injury to at least one of the Big Three, a Nets victory would qualify as a pretty huge upset.

  8. jbeagles23 - Apr 8, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    Every year there’s a team in the regular season that gives the heat troubles. Last year New York. Year before Chicago. The heat know games don’t matter til may. They’re rotations make no sense during the regular season cause its just practice for them

    • theromeo2k - Apr 8, 2014 at 3:16 PM

      Then, the same type of logic can be applied to the Nets’ play prior this hot stretch (Before 2014). And by that logic you can discredit this whole article and have a valid argument that the Nets will win the ship this year because of their talent, and not by the way they’ve shown they can play during the season.

  9. realfootballfan - Apr 8, 2014 at 8:59 PM

    This is where the Pacers are fortunate because if the Nets could possibly face them in round 2, that series would be over in 5 games. The Heat will have their hands full with them as it is, but I expect them to finish them in 6.

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