As the Miami Heat slaughtered another mediocre team in the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, the team has moved its record against squads with losing marks to 10-1. Miami has famously had trouble against teams at .500 or better, going just 2-7 to date.
But as the Lakers have shown this week, it's not a unique problem. The Lakers are now 11-2 against teams under .500 and 2-4 against teams at or above .500. This is not surprising. It's completely logical that most good or great teams will do better against bad opponents than good or great ones. Yet for Miami, it has become a specific dig, that the Heat will beat up on lesser foes (see: the Cleveland game, and the ones against Detroit and Washington before that) and crumble at the feet of its peers.
Have any of the NBA's contenders done especially well against the league's best? San Antonio is 7-2 against good teams, and 8-1 against bad teams. The Celtics are 6-2 against good teams and 8-2 against the bad. The Magic are 5-3 against good teams and 9-1 against the bad. The Hornets are 4-4 against good teams and 9-1 against bad teams. The Mavericks are 6-3 against good teams and 8-1 against the bad. The Jazz are 7-4 against good teams and 8-1 against the bad.
So basically, every single one of the major title contenders perform better against bad teams than against good teams. Science! The only difference is that Miami's performance against good teams is, by record, worse than that of its contemporaries.
Wait, there's another difference: seven of Miami's nine games against teams at .500 or better have come against the best-of-the-best, or teams with no more than five losses. Six of the Heat's seven losses have come to the Celtics (twice), Hornets, Magic, Jazz and Magic. The other loss was a stinker against the Pacers. The Lakers' two wins against .500 or better teams: the Suns and Bulls, two (currently) non-elite but good squads. L.A. is 0-1 against the league's elite (Utah), and 2-3 against the good-not-great teams.
The Heat struggle against elite teams, do OK against good-not-great teams and maim bad teams. The Lakers struggle against elite teams, do OK against good-not-great teams and maim bad teams.
I'm not defending the Heat's record; I'm noting that the Heat, despite their record, have been quite good so far, and have faced a tougher schedule than you think. Miami will run out of games against Orlando and Boston -- they are halfway there already, actually -- and will pick up more games against the middle-of-the-East pack, like the Knicks and Hawks. And, at some point, the Lakers will draw more games against the league's elite. And so well the Celtics. And the Magic. And everyone else.
There's a reason Miami has the East's best point differential (and is basically tied with the league-best Spurs) despite a less-than-impressive record: because the team is really, really good. When the Ws and Ls shake out to show as much, don't credit some magnificent turnaround stemming from the Cleveland blow-out. An improved record has been in the cards, and is meant to be. Let science into your heart!