Marc Stein’s writeup of the Dallas Mavericks’ poor first round performance reveals yet another instance of sportswriters’ lack of engagement with relevant research:
If you expected more from a group that had the league’s best road record (27-14) during the regular season and likewise posted the NBA’s gaudiest record in close games — 18-7 in games decided by five points or less and 35-12 over the past two seasons — you’re not alone.
The reality is that you need to be suspicious of teams with good records driven by excellent performance in close games. Winning games is important for securing home court advantage in the playoffs, but point differential is a much more powerful predictor of future success. And even though Dallas had the second-best record in the West, they had the worst point differential of any Western Conference playoff team. San Antonio had the second-best and Utah had the best. Under the circumstances, it’s not really particularly surprising that these two “underdogs” are winning their series.