Because schedules in the playoffs are anything but balanced, the only way to really evaluate teams on a level playing field is to adjust for competition. I do so by comparing the Offensive and Defensive Ratings teams post to the weighted average of their opponents during the regular season. The amount better or worse than an average opponent during the regular season is the basis for offensive and defensive rankings and a combined net performance.
Entering the NBA Finals, here are this year’s numbers.
Team Off Def Net ---------------------------------- Miami 7.9 4.8 12.8 Oklahoma City 9.3 2.6 11.9 San Antonio 5.9 3.9 9.8 Philadelphia 0.3 7.2 7.5 Boston 0.2 5.9 6.1 Indiana -0.7 4.7 4.0 Memphis -3.2 5.9 2.7 Denver 1.3 -0.6 0.7 Chicago -4.7 5.4 0.7 L.A. Lakers 0.3 0.3 0.6 L.A. Clippers -0.4 0.2 -0.2 Dallas -0.5 -0.6 -1.1 Atlanta -6.2 4.0 -2.2 Orlando -7.6 0.4 -7.3 New York -4.2 -3.6 -7.7 Utah -9.6 -0.3 -9.9
I would submit that Miami outplaying Oklahoma City in the playoffs is something of a minority position, given that the Thunder had a much more difficult matchup in the conference finals and played three more games over the course of the playoffs. However, the Heat still had a better point differential en route to the NBA Finals, built largely during a dominant first-round win over the New York Knicks. While the Thunder swept the Dallas Mavericks, three of the four games could have gone either way.
Additionally, Miami’s more difficult set of early matchups (the Knicks and the Indiana Pacers rated ahead of both the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers during the regular season, despite the championship pedigree of the West teams) made the Heat’s path slightly more difficult overall.
Despite losing the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs were still clearly the best team not to reach the Finals. After that, the rankings break down a bit because of injuries. The Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers are getting credited for beating the regular-season Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls, who played below that level because of health.