The NBA Finals is one of the most important series in all of sports. It’s the culmination of the entire season, and a fiercely competitive contest. As such, every edge matters. That includes home court advantage, which all teams want to have when the lights get bright.
This article covers the importance of home court advantage and breaks down how it’s determined during different parts of the season. It’s something all teams strive for, but the higher the stakes get, the more it has to be earned.
Home Sweet Home
Home court advantage is a key part of every sport. The term refers to the advantage the home team gets from playing in their own building. Going on the road can be rough, and getting to be somewhere without hostile noise can completely change close or tight games.
The road doesn’t affect every team the same way, either. Some squads are perfectly fine going into hostile territory (and some are even better). However, for the most part teams would rather not have to travel or play through an opposing crowd if they can avoid it.
During the regular season, they don’t get a choice. Home court advantage is just determined by scheduling. Teams have to travel a certain number of days throughout the year, and what days/where they play are all picked by the league before the season starts.
Things change in the playoffs.
A Familiar Postseason
Once the postseason hits, rather than working off of a predetermined schedule, teams get home court advantage based on their regular season record. In the first three rounds, the team who has the higher seed, determined by their record, gets home court.
What that means is the organization who had more regular season wins plays the first two games at home, then the lower seed plays the next two games at home. From there, the higher seed hosts the next, then the lower seed, and the higher seed has home court in game seven.
Breaking that down further, the higher seed gets to both start and end the series at home. That’s a big deal. So big, in fact, that retaining that advantage is one of the most important aspects of playing a playoff series properly.
The Finals, however, are a little different. They also go off of the winningest team, but they do so without taking seeding into account. The team with the better record retains home court, even if they had a lower seed during the regular season.
For example, if the team in the Eastern Conference was the one seed of their bracket with a 60-22 record and the team in the Western Conference was the fourth seed with a 61-21 record, the team in the Western Conference would keep the advantage
The Importance of Familiarity
Home court may not seem like a huge deal when looking at all of the factors that go into a playoff series, but it’s more important than it first looks. In fact, it matters more in basketball than any other sport.
Where in baseball and football the home team wins a little more than fifty percent of the time, the home team in the NBA regular season wins roughly sixty percent of the time.
That trend also continues into the playoffs. Statistics show that it’s much tougher for teams to win on the road in the postseason than during regular games. In fact, the general winning percentage rises from sixty percent all the way to sixty four.
That’s a four percent bump, which is quite a lot when looking at the numbers. Higher seeded teams do get home court in the NBA, and that could explain the rise, but when looking at all metrics there’s no doubt that teams perform better in their own building.
NBA franchises just seem to do worse on the road. Since 2003, teams have 3.1 percent more turnovers, 3.4 percent fewer baskets, 12.7 percent less fast break points, and 4.7 more fouls when they’re not playing in a familiar venue.
There’s no one reason to explain that phenomenon, but it’s likely a combination of pressure, referees, and crowd noise. Regardless of the reason, every player would avoid road games if they could.
Every team wants home court advantage, but never is it more important than on basketball’s biggest stage. The Finals are always a tight, hard-fought series. Getting to play in front of a friendly may not be the be-all, end-all, but it definitely helps.
There have been quite a few teams to make deep playoff runs without having a lot of regular season wins, but that’s a rarity. Top seeds are often the ones still standing when it’s all said and done. Part of that is their talent, and part of it is that they get to play so many games at home.