Road to nowhere in NBA playoffs
After beating down for most of its existence one hackneyed claim -- Catch the last two minutes of a pro basketball game and you'll see everything you need -- the NBA lately finds itself faced with another that is mixed, poured and already setting up concrete-style right here in the 2008 playoffs:
Check the schedule to see which team is playing at home, and you'll already know who's going to win.
NBA road teams have about as much chance at victory this postseason as traveling parties to King Kong's Skull Island. Twenty of the 21 games played so far in the second round have been won by the home teams. That's 95.2 percent, a success rate that would put a scare into even the greatest road team of all time, the Harlem Globetrotters. In the first round, home teams went 30-14, a .682 clip. That makes it 50 out of 65 overall, or a 76.9 percent chance of sending the fans in attendance home happy while inevitably wringing some of the drama out of what ought to be the best basketball of the year.
Consider the Game 6 clashes Friday night in Cleveland and Utah. With one team in each poised to clinch and advance, and the other fighting for its playoff life, the tension and excitement in the sixth game of any best-of-seven series traditionally rival that found in most Game 7 showdowns. Except that the way the Celtics, in particular, and the Lakers have fared on the road in this round, it seems pretty safe -- for those following along via telecasts -- to skip the first game entirely and, east of the Rocky Mountains, head off to bed at halftime of the nightcap.
We'll be able to do it all over Sunday or Monday, same teams, other guys' buildings.
"If I could figure out what's going on with this home-court stuff, I would bottle it and sell it to the other 29 teams in the league," Hornets coach Byron Scott said after his team's Game 6 loss in San Antonio on Thursday.
After Boston -- 7-0 at home in these playoffs, 0-5 on the road -- beat the Cavaliers in Game 5 on Wednesday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said: "We're going to get one. I don't know when. It would be great if it's Game 6, but if not, we're going to come back here.''
If not, we're going to come back here. Hmm. Let's just say there have been more fervent rallying cries in sports history.
Home-court advantage is a staple of the NBA game, evident during most regular seasons and significant in most postseasons. Conventional wisdom says that home teams generally win about 60 percent of the time; in 2007-08, that's almost precisely how the home/road continuum played out. In the East, the teams in white were 344-271 this season. In the West, 395-220. Combined, that's 739-491, a winning percentage of .601. Flip that and you get the road team's .399. NBA head coaches even have a counting system to capture the impact during the year, scoring road victories as plus-1 and home defeats as minus-1 to see where they really stand.
In the playoffs, when the buildings get more crowded and more noisy, the home team's fortunes typically improve. Since the NBA went to a 16-team tournament in 1984, home teams have won 66.4 percent of the games. Interestingly, the advantage has been most pronounced in the second round, with a 67.9 percent success rate.
It also is understood that home-court advantage pays off, way more often than not, when it comes to advancing. According to NBA figures, over all of the league's best-of-seven playoff matchups, the teams with the home-court edge have won 280 out of 372 series, a .753 rate.
Still, it never has been taken so literally, with home teams winning and road teams losing quite like this. The most lopsided home/road results in any round since 1984, overall by winning percentage, came in the 1990 conference finals, when the home teams went 12-1 (.923). That postseason, the home clubs won 75 percent of the time.
So what is it this year? Statistical anomaly? An identifiable trend? An influx of wimpy players and coaches? Friendlier officiating at home? A new definition of "traveling violation?'' Probably some combination of the above (though the refs will deny their part).