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The Extra Pass: Winning regular season series doesn’t guarantee playoff success… but it doesn’t hurt

Apr 9, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat Getty Images

Not long after Mason Plumlee shut down LeBron James at the rim and the Nets had swept the season series from the Heat — two teams that very well could meet in the second round of the playoffs — I put this out there:

Nets fans shouldn’t count on regular season success equaling postseason success against Miami.

The Nets won three of those games by one point and the fourth went into double overtime — it’s not like they dominated Miami. Besides, Miami has rested guys (Dwyane Wade did not play Tuesday). More than that, teams change in the playoffs, where the match ups and the ability to exploit them matter more.

But regular season success in a series does tend to point to post season winners.

In the past three seasons, the winners of the regular season series are 23-11 in playoff match ups. (Eight series were tied in the regular season, and this does not include the Finals where the teams only played each other twice.)

That’s far from a guarantee of victory, but it suggests that the better team tends to win out in the regular season and postseason. You would expect a one seed to have beaten an eight seed most of the time during the season, same with a two-seven matchup, and it does shake out that way.

Here are the 11 series in the last three years where the regular season was not a predictor of postseason success:

• 2013: Clippers took 3-of-4 from Grizzlies then lost in six in playoffs.
• 2013: Nuggets took 3-of-4 from Warriors, but without Danilo Gallinari were not the same team come the playoffs.
• 2012: Celtics took 3-of-4 from Heat then lost in seven to eventual champs in Eastern Conference Finals.
• 2012: Sixers had taken 2-of-3 from Celtics in regular season but lost in seven games in playoffs.
• 2012: Magic took 2-of-3 from Pacers in regular season when they still had Dwight Howard, lost in playoffs without him.
• 2012: Bulls took 2-of-3 from 76ers in regular season but after Derrick Rose blew out his knee fell in playoffs to Philly.
• 2012: Spurs took 2-of-3 from Thunder in regular season, lost in six in playoffs after being up 2-0.
• 2011: Bulls swept season series from Heat but Miami dominated Eastern Conference Finals 4-1.
• 2011: Celtics took 3-of-4 from Heat in regular season but Miami beat them in five games in playoffs.
• 2011: Lakers took 2-of-3 from Mavericks in the regular season but Dallas swept the playoff series.
• 2011: Grizzlies take 3-of-4 from Thunder in the regular season but the Thunder win Game 7 and take the playoff series.

You note injuries play a role here in a few cases — Derrick Rose’s knee and Dwight Howard’s back changed the course of their teams’ seasons in 2012.

But a lot of times it’s a matchup issue. Down 2-0 to the Spurs in 2012 the Oklahoma City Thunder figured out how to better use their athleticism on defense and went on to sweep that series (they have dominated the regular season series since then as well). Miami has done the same thing to Boston twice, having come together in the playoffs and using their superior athleticism to their advantage on that stage.

That’s a Boston team that had a lot of these Nets players on it. Which is why Brooklyn fans may not want to read too much into that sweep.

  1. void96eater - Apr 9, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    Testing lol

    • void96eater - Apr 9, 2014 at 12:50 PM

      ^ This was an HTML fail.

      Anyway, this is a pointless article. Everyone knows a season series doesn’t mirror what happens in the playoffs all the time.

  2. shzastl - Apr 9, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    I’d be interested to see of how many times the lower seeded team won the playoff and regular season series. If the higher seeded team wins in the playoffs after losing the regular season series, it’s not that surprising, because they were the better team over 82 games and had home court advantage. But if the lower seed won the playoff series, then the regular season success may indicate that they happen to match up well against that opponent even if they are an inferior team against the rest of the league.

  3. antistratfordian - Apr 9, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    I’m not sure many people think the Nets would even get out of the first round. But should they play well enough to face Miami in the playoffs, they’re in for a rude awakening. Miami takes these regular season slights personally in the playoffs.

    A playoff veteran like Pierce will be prepared for it – but other guys, like Thornton and Livingston, won’t have a clue.

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