How much stock do we put in a 4-0 sweep?
That's the question we have to answer these days as we get ready for the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat to face off Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Nets won all four regular-season meetings between these two teams, the first time the Heat have been swept in four games during the Big Three era. Actually, no team had ever swept a LeBron James team in four games.
This has to mean something. But how much? No team totally lucks its way into four wins and zero losses against a team featuring James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on the roster. We also know that regular-season series matchups hold loads of predictive power in the playoffs. The takeaway is that if you take care of business in the regular season against an opponent, you'll be in good shape come playoff time.
Two defending champs have learned that the hard way. Coming off a three-peat in 2002-03, the Lakers got swept 4-0 by the San Antonio Spurs in the regular season. What happened in the postseason? They lost to the Spurs in six games in the Western Conference semifinals. The 1995-96 Houston Rockets, same deal. Going for a three-peat (sound familiar, Heat fans?), the Rockets met the Seattle Supersonics in the playoffs after losing all four games in the regular season. Then Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton busted out the brooms again and swept the Rockets in four games in the postseason.
Then we throw in this fact dug up by Per Diem mate Kevin Pelton: In seven-game series since 2001, teams that swept the head-to-head series in the regular season are 17-1 in the postseason matchup. All but one followed the same fate.
This all spells doom and gloom for the Heat, right?
Not so fast. This Heat team looks like it will be the exception, not the rule. Here are three reasons why the 4-0 sweep by the Nets is nothing but a mirage.