NBA Postseason and Earlier Meetings by Jim Feist

By: Jim Feist | Tuesday, May 10, 2016

As the NBA playoffs roll on, handicappers should take careful note of how teams did against each other during the regular season. Examine head to head matchups individually and as a group. Does one team dominate another? If so, are the reasons for this, or was it merely a fluke during the long grind of the 82-game schedule? 

The first Western Conference team to beat the mighty Golden State Warriors this season was Dallas in a 114-91 blowout. You can’t read much into that December meeting, however, especially when the Warriors covered as 18-point chalk in the rematch, 127-107. 

Some people made a big deal of the New Orleans Pelicans beating Golden State late last season, 103-100, then meeting in the first round of the playoffs. But it really didn’t mean anything as the Warriors completed a four-game sweep with a 109-98 Game 4 win and cover.

Regular season meetings are worth looking at, though it’s a mixed bag regarding what data can be culled, if any.  The Clippers went 3-1 against Portland during the regular season, including a win at Portland,  109-98. What stands out is that the season series went 3-1 under the total, with the Clippers are much better defensive team than many think, ranked 7 in points allowed (100.3 ppg), No. 2 in field goal defense (.434%), and No. 6 at defending the three-pointer (34%). The LA defense can take advantage of soft defensive teams: heading into the playoffs the Clippers were 29-6 under the total when their opponent allows 100+ points the previous game. 

But regular season meetings don’t often shed light on what will happen in the postseason. Three years ago the Clippers drew the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs, a team they went 3-1 against during the regular season. A nice first round breeze, right? After taking a 2-0 lead the Clippers were taken apart by Memphis four straight. 

What happened?  Clearly the regular season meetings meant nothing. Memphis lost twice by double digits during the regular season to the Clippers, but turned around and won four in a row by 12, 21, 10 and 13 points. 

Four years ago the Heat opened their title defense against the Bucks and when you look at the three regular season meetings there was one close game in overtime, and two blowout wins by each team. The conclusion would be an evenly matched series based on that, but we all know it was the biggest mismatch on the NBA playoff calendar.   

Yes, the Bucks did blow out Miami back in December, 104-85, but that was more of a fluke. Miami was playing its fourth game in five nights and looked out of gas, losing the turnover battle 20-5. It was the Bucks' first sellout of the season. Milwaukee, meanwhile, had two full days off and it was the Bucks' first sellout of the season, who outscored Miami 35-14 in the fourth.  Be careful about reading too much into the earlier meetings and look carefully as to reasons and situations. 

Sometimes a team is missing key players for one or two of the regular season meetings, which can explain why one team did poorly. Or, maybe the losing team played in difficult back-to-back spots.  Other times, you may find that a team matches up well against an opponent. Examine the regular season meetings to see if home court was the difference, or rebounding, or a bad spot in the schedule for one team. 

Last month the Toronto Raptors were at home to Indiana and rolled, 111-98. A closer look, however, finds that the Pacers needed to win the game while the Raptors didn’t, resting Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, giving the night off to their top two offensive players. Not a good sign, matchup-wise, for the Pacers. 

Another angle is when one team dominates another during the regular season, then the two meet in the playoffs. The public perception is that the team that dominated during the season will easily rout the opponent, but this is not always the case. You may have heard professional bettors speak of the "GAD" theory, or "Go Against the Dominant team" during the postseason. It's not as simple as betting against the favored team that dominated during the regular season, but it's something to keep in mind as the playoffs commence. 

For instance, a few years ago the Sacramento Kings swept the Utah Jazz during the regular season, going 4-0 straight up and against the spread. The Kings didn't just win – they rolled! Sacramento won those four regular season meetings by some frightful scores: 113-80, 114-90, 107-81 and 117-109. But in their first round playoff battle, Utah went 3-0 against the spread in the first three games, even winning Game 2 at Sacramento, 93-86 as an 11-point dog.  Clearly public perception had something to do with that based on the regular season dominance, but Utah didn't give in, perhaps even using their 0-4 regular season as a motivating factor. 

Three years ago the Dallas Mavericks had a remarkable run to the championship, beating Miami in six games after losing two of the first three. Few recall that during the regular season the Mavericks matched up well, sweeping the Heat, 106-95 and 98-96, 2-0 SU/ATS. 

Examine regular season meetings but be careful. Take note of injuries, rebounding edges, free throw attempts or when a big dog played the favorite evenly (or better) all season. The real story -- and edges against the oddsmakers – can be found in the details. 

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