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Friday, May 25, 2018

Home Court Advantage Matters Most in NBA Because of Scheduling

The importance of home court advantage has been one of the most debated topics in sports for as long as I can remember.  Does it make a difference?  If so, how much?  Does familiarity with one’s venue produce a greater likelihood of success?  Do the fans provide the home team with an added boost of adrenaline?  These are all questions that have been proposed countless times but never actually been answered.

SB Nation came pretty close on Wednesday — at least with the NBA.  After crunching a bunch of numbers, they discovered that NBA teams benefit from a much stronger home court advantage than teams in the NFL, MLB, and NHL.  That comes as a bit of a surprise, since we normally associate rowdy football fans and crowd noise on third down as being some of the most significant factors in helping a home team win.  However, SB Nation found that over the last three seasons, NBA teams would have won an additional 10.1 percent of their games if all 82 were played at home.  That number sinks to 6.4 percent in the NFL, 5.4 percent in the MLB, and 5.2 percent in the NHL.

Now comes the interesting part — the reason why.  As you may have noticed, the NBA tries to consolidate road trips as much as possible in terms of days.  Most back-to-back games come on a road trip and teams rarely have to do things like play three games in four days or four games in five days when they’re on a home stand.  It makes more sense financially to have a team get as many games out of the way in as short a span as possible when on the road.

SB Nation coupled their analysis with one conducted by Ed Kupfer, a Houston Rockets analyst, in 2005 that looked at factors in win probability.  Kupfer determined that the most significant factor in determining who wins a game in the NBA is days since a team’s last game.  The fewer days in between games, the less likely a team is to win.  The more road games a team has in a row, the less days off between games they’re likely to have.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors that come into play.  We always hear talk about players “knowing the rims” at their home court, and while all the rims and baskets are obviously manufactured using the same specs I think there’s something to be said for familiarity.  Comfort is an important factor in success — especially in basketball where any slight tension could affect your jump shot enough to result in a terrible shooting night.  That being said, it makes perfect sense that the structure of NBA scheduling would affect the outcome of games.

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