The Lakers went into Boston and beat the Celtics without Andrew Bynum, but because they only beat the Timberwolves by three points, somehow Boston is better. Make sense?
Most people that closely follow the NBA agree that the Lakers, at least right now, are the league's best team. There is no shortage of evidence to support this fact, but at least one respected follower of the league ranked them no better than third this week.
ESPN's John Hollinger is the great mind behind many useful metrics that help us to further dissect professional basketball, including the PER (Player Efficiency Rating) which measures players across a variety of statistical categories. His weekly rankings are "100 percent automated," which might explain how the Lakers could end up ranked behind two Eastern Conference teams that they haven't lost to all season -- the Celtics and the Cavaliers.
But Hollinger himself provided his own explanation, which, in all honesty, just doesn't make any sense.
That's the thing about relying on win-loss records -- because every game is just a binary result, a 1 or a 0, a lot of information is lost. The margin between the two teams is distilled down to one win, one loss, regardless if the winning team prevailed by 40 points or won on a half-court shot at the buzzer.
That, in turn, is why I rely so heavily on scoring margin -- it's a better predictor of future success than win-loss record. Yes, believe it or not, it's even a better predictor of a team's future win-loss record.
Translation: the Lakers don't beat teams by enough points, so they're not as good as Cleveland or Boston.
Still not convinced that's where Hollinger's coming from? Here's another taste.
If the Lakers keep beating Minnesota by 3, and the Celtics keep beating Denver by 38, then the Celtics are going to keep being No. 1 regardless of who has the better record or by how much.
So even though the Lakers are undefeated against the Celtics and Cavaliers this season -- including beating both on the road recently without Andrew Bynum -- the fact that they didn't get motivated to blow out an 18-37 Minnesota team on the road means that they're somehow not as good as Boston or Cleveland? Oh, okay.
Point differential may have correctly predicted three out of the last four NBA champions, but common sense tells you that it doesn't matter how many points you win by -- especially against bottom feeders like the Timberwolves. What does matter is how you stack up against the other elite teams in the league, and no statistical category can disprove what we've seen with our own eyes: that the Lakers have completely dominated the Celtics and Cavaliers this season.