NBA Playoffs – Does a First Round Sweep Mean Anything?

Stephen Curry

Three teams – Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors and the Washington Wizards have swept through the first round of the 2015 NBA playoffs. The Memphis Grizzlies can still do it to. But does it mean anything about their chances to win an NBA championship?

Strictly looking at the numbers, only one team has swept their first round rivals and has gone on to win the NBA championship since the 7-7-7-7 format began in the 2004 postseason. But giving it a more logical think through, it has nothing to do with title credentials. It simply mean they were no match for their first round rival, and that’s it.

In 2004, the first year of the new 7-7-7-7 format, three teams swept through the first round. None of them made it past the conference semifinals. A year later, the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns won their first round series in four games. Both teams made it to the conference finals and lost.

2007 NBA finals

In 2006, the Dallas Mavericks were the only team to win their first round series in four games. They made it all the way to the finals, losing to the Miami Heat. A year later, three first round sweeps, all in the Eastern conference. One of them by the Cleveland Cavaliers, making it to the NBA Finals, and getting swept there by the Spurs.

It’s 2008, and the Los Angeles Lakers are the only team to win the first round in a sweep. They make the finals, but lose in six games to the Boston Celtics. In 2009 the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only sweepers of the first round but are stopped in the conference finals by the Orlando Magic.

The same Orlando Magic are the only team in 2010 to win the first round in just four games. They as well are stopped in the conference finals, losing to the Boston Celtics. In 2011 the Boston Celtics win the first round in four games, but lose to the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals.

White Hot

On to 2012; San Antonio and Oklahoma City sweep the first round. These two teams end up playing in the conference finals. The Thunder advance and lose to Miami in the finals. The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs sweep the first round in 2013. That’s also the pairing in the NBA Finals, which the Heat win in seven games.

Last year, the Miami Heat were the only team to sweep the first round series. They made it a fourth consecutive NBA finals series but lost in five games to the avenging Spurs.

So what can we tell from this? That it doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s probably simply relying on having LeBron James (five NBA finals in eight seasons) on your team than try to figure out in how many games you’re going to win the series. Looking for deeper meaning? Try to analyze how good the team really is instead of turning to numbers and statistics that don’t really tell the whole story.

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