Home Court Huge in This NBA Playoffs
by Trevor Whenham - 05/14/2008
I know that home court advantage is supposed to be significant in the NBA, but this is getting just plain ridiculous. As of Tuesday night there have been 18 games played in the second round of the playoffs. The home team has won 17 of them. Detroit is the only team to take a game on the road, and they won't get a chance to win another in the round because the one road win was enough for them to win the series against Orlando in five games. Seventeen of 18 - I would argue that such a lopsided result would be impossible, except it's happening.
To understand how strange this is we need to look back on the last couple of years for a comparison. Last year the home teams had an edge in the second round, but a much less impressive one at 14-9. The year before, the home teams had an only slightly better winning percentage at 16-10. The same ballpark was occupied in 2005 when the home teams were 13-9. I could keep going, but the point would remain the same - the expectation for the home teams is much closer to a 60 percent win rate than the current 94 percent.
So why is this happening this year? The obvious and most tempting solution is that it's just some sort of a fluke that will correct over the long term. The best evidence for this being the case is that the first round this year was a much more reasonable 27-17 record for the home teams - right around that 60 percent winning rate we saw in each of the past three years in the second round. If that's a rate that keeps repeating itself then perhaps you could argue that over the long term this current abnormality will correct itself.
If you don't want to accept that this is just a blip in the normal course of things then you'll probably want a different answer. Here are three potential ones:
Level of competition - This year, all eight teams in the conference semi-finals are legitimate contenders to make the finals. Some are more likely than others, but none could have been called a major upset if they were to have won their division. That's certainly not always the case. Last year Chicago, New Jersey and Golden State were pretenders who had over-performed in the first round. The year before it was the Clippers. 2005's pretenders were Washington and Indiana. This year we had the top four teams in each conference advance. When teams are closely matched then the advantage of the home court can be enough to swing it one way or another.
Shifting problems - If you look at each series in isolation you could argue that teams had problems at one point that became better later on, or vice versa. Boston was able to shut down LeBron James fairly effectively in the first two games of the series, but he found a way to be more effective as the series went along. Tim Duncan was even less effective than James in the first two games of his tilt against New Orleans, but he found his game again at home. Kobe Bryant played extremely well in the first two games of the series against Utah, but then his back injury became more of a problem and perhaps limited his effectiveness enough to give the Jazz new life. This argument loses some steam when you consider that Chauncey Billups missed Detroit's road win due to an injury.
Independent momentum shifts - This is just a twist on the last argument, but it's different enough to mention. In each series you can point to different events that have caused swings in momentum in the series. It's not hard to believe at all that each series, when looked at in isolation, could have turned out as it has so far. The fact that they have all happened this way at the same time is obviously less likely, but could happen (because it has).
Regardless of why this bizarre reality is here, the fact is that it is. Obviously, it's something that bettors need to be on top of - especially since the home team is at a ridiculous 13-3 ATS in the round. Because of that, you need to come up with a strategy for dealing with this current situation. I'll leave that to you, but here are two things you'll want to consider as you go about that:
The public almost always likes the home team - That is going to become even more true the more games are won by the home team and the more times a home team covers the spread. The effect of that is inevitably going to be increased lines and more advantageous prices for the road teams. I'm not saying that the road teams are the best bet now or in the future because of that. I'm just saying that, if all other things are equal, there is a good chance that the line of the home team is inflated a bit more than it should be.
The road teams are not due - When a lopsided streak like this occurs it's tempting for people to think that the other side is due. That's a fast way to go broke. If a coin comes up heads 19 flips in a row the chances of it coming up heads the 20th time is still 50 percent. In the same way, The odds of a road team winning a game are the same as they have always been regardless of the fact that road teams have won way fewer games than would normally be expected. You might feel with some certainty that this disproportionate distribution of wins will be corrected eventually, but that has no effect whatsoever on what will happen in the next game, or on any remaining game in these playoffs.