clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How important is home court advantage, really?

New, comments

Come discuss the relative merits of the factors that go into NBA playoff success in this day and age.

Only one can win.
Only one can win.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

With the Blazers suffering recent losses – of 5 year starter Wesley Matthews, and to 14-win Minnesota – and holding onto the fourth-best record in the West with a mere 1.5 game lead over the fifth seed Clippers, there has to be some concern about securing homecourt advantage for the playoffs.

In their final twenty games, the Blazers will play each of the other Western Conference playoff teams except for the Spurs…instead getting the honor of playing top seeded Golden State twice. All told, half of their remaining games will come against likely playoff teams, as well as 3 other games against teams on the West’s periphery (Phoenix and New Orleans). Although given Saturday’s game against the Wolves, maybe the Blazers should be worried about the other 7 games…

But let’s take a step back – how important is homecourt advantage, actually? Do we really need to sweat out this last month-plus of the regular season?

There is evidence that home court advantage may be less important this year than ever before. Home team winning percentages in the regular season have been steadily declining the last few years – culminating in an all-time low .537 home winning percentage this year through January according to this articleincluding a mere .477 win rate in close games.

And looking back at last year’s playoffs, the home team put up a 26-24 record in the first round…and only an 11-11 record in the second round. Throw in the fact that this year’s West will arguably be the most competitive field, 1 through 8, that a conference has ever seen, and perhaps home court advantage should be an afterthought.

But…by virtue of this year’s competitiveness, perhaps home court advantage, even at a four seed, could be HUGE. Would anybody really be surprised if the Thunder and / or Spurs knocked out the top teams in the conference in the first round? In a scenario where either team (or both) won their opening series, the three or four seed could have home court throughout the playoffs. And when the differences between team quality are so razor-thin, the smallest of advantages could be the difference-maker.

If home court advantage isn’t what it used to be, then what is the most important factor in playoff success?

Matchups

The NBA playoffs has long been considered a game of matchups, especially when you want the ball in the hands of your best players with the game in the balance. However, with more selfless, ‘pass till the open shot’, balanced team attacks such as the Spurs and Hawks en vogue these days, perhaps this is less of a concern than ever.

But perhaps this suggests a pre-eminence of the matchups of teams’ ‘style of play’ over individual matchups?  Some teams seem to have consistent success over other particular teams, regardless of individual talents, and some teams are seen to be 'built better' for the playoffs.

Health

Last year’s finals participants were both extremely healthy throughout the playoffs. Certainly there is a degree of luck involved here. Everyone is aware of how injuries to Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook derailed their respective excellent teams’ playoff runs in 2012 and 2013 – and in Rose’s case, multiple playoff runs. But there have been teams that overcame injuries to their best players and were still able to win it all. Willis Reed, despite all the fanfare, only played a few minutes in his famous game 7 appearance in the 1970 Finals. And Kareem Abdul Jabaar didn’t play at all in the last game of the 1980 Finals. Of course, those were just single games…and injuries to role players can have vital impacts as well.

Getting hot for the playoffs

The importance of coming together and playing your best ball come playoff time is obvious enough, and the end of the regular season is the time to make that happen. But do strong finishes of the 82-game meat grinder really mean anything, especially past the first round? The Blazers came into last year’s playoffs winning 9 of their last 10, and were able to roar past the Rockets in the first round….only to get outclassed by the Spurs the next round. The Spurs themselves had a remarkable 20-game win streak still going in the 2012 Conference Finals…until it ended, with an unceremonious thud against an Oklahoma City team headed for the Finals.

We’ve also seen the impact that hot players can have – J.J. Barea, Stephen Curry, and Danny Green all come to mind as individuals who have gotten hot enough to impact the outcome of a recent playoff series.

Having the best talent

It would follow that the team with the best players should stand the best chance at winning. According to this study, the best team usually wins an NBA playoff series…and upsets are said to be more rare in pro baskeball playoffs than in any other sport. But then there is also the question of whether it is more important to have a few of the best players on the court – or have an advantage in depth. The LeBron-era Heat would seem to be a case study for this question; the final results were mixed.

So tell us below – what do you think is the most important factor in playoff success, and why? Also, chime in on reasons WHY you think the role of home court advantage is evolving. Are fans too busy instagramming and selfie-ing and facebooking and texting about their presence at the game to bring the necessary passion to sway the outcomes of games?

Well I can assure you, this was not the case in the Houston series last year. Crowd participation at the Rose Garden (yes, I went there) was…in-CRED-ible. It blew away any crowd intensity for any regular season game. You would think that would count for something, no?