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Numbers Prove NBA Home Court Advantage is Real

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... and it's spectacular. Although it's more spectacular in Indiana than other places.

This far into the NBA season, it is possible to look of the playoff picture and start to predict the likely playoff seeding and the matchups that may result. In addition to their playoff opponents, seeding also dictates home court. As such, it is relevant to investigate how big a difference there is in home versus road performance in potential playoff teams.

Inside the Numbers

This chart shows the difference between offensive rating and defensive rating of each team, both at home and on the road. A few pieces of information here are worth discussing.

Numbers courtesy of stats.nba.com, the league's newly unveiled statistics database.

TeamNet HomeNet AwayHome - Away
Atlanta Hawks2.8-0.43.2
Boston Celtics6.0-4.910.9
Brooklyn Nets1.9-2.64.5
Charlotte Bobcats-7.5-13.25.7
Chicago Bulls2.01.60.4
Cleveland Cavaliers-3.9-6.82.9
Dallas Mavericks4.7-6.311.0
Denver Nuggets10.6-1.512.1
Detroit Pistons0.9-8.89.7
Golden State Warriors5.2-3.18.3
Houston Rockets6.1-1.17.2
Indiana Pacers11.6-0.712.3
Los Angeles Clippers10.72.58.2
Los Angeles Lakers6.3-3.59.8
Memphis Grizzlies5.60.65.0
Miami Heat13.85.28.6
Milwaukee Bucks-1.2-1.50.3
Minnesota T'Wolves3.0-8.211.2
New Orleans Hornets-2.3-5.02.7
New York Knicks9.00.58.5
Oklahoma City Thunder13.96.37.6
Orlando Magic-4.7-8.53.4
Philadelphia 76ers-1.6-5.94.3
Phoenix Suns-2.0-10.78.7
Portland Trail Blazers1.9-8.810.7
Sacramento Kings-3.7-12.18.4
San Antonio Spurs14.65.09.6
Toronto Raptors3.2-5.18.3
Utah Jazz4.9-6.010.9
Washington Wizards0.6-9.09.6

The Breakdown

Every Team Performs Better at Home than on the Road – While this shouldn’t be too surprising, it is still important to note that home court advantage is a real, observable phenomenon. While some teams experience less of a drop off in performance when playing on the road, every team should prefer to play at home. This is even more important when considering the high leverage games that take place in the playoffs.

Few Teams Outscore Opponents on the Road – Again, this is no revelation as few teams have winning records on the road either. Only the Thunder, Heat, Spurs, Clippers, Bulls, Grizzlies, and Knicks have a higher offensive than defensive efficiency on the road. This is important because sometimes a better team has a worse record than a playoff opponent due to bad luck, a more difficult schedule, injuries, or mid-season trades. Given that only the best teams are able to outscore on average opponents that include the Bobcats of the world, upsets against higher ranked playoff teams are quite difficult, even if the lower ranked team might be slightly better.

No Great Indicators of a Good Road Team – I looked at offense, defense, and each of the four factors offensively and defensively as indicators of teams that face a minimal drop off in performance on the road (or boost in performance at home if you prefer to think of it that way). No one of those stats had a particularly good correlation to differences in home versus road performance. The best of the bunch was free throw rate on offense, which had a correlation of 0.344 with the difference between net scoring at home and on the road, with 1.00 being perfect correlation. This makes some sense as teams tend to get a little more love from the refs at home than on the road – an average FT/FGA boost of 0.01. As such, if drawing fouls is an important part of a team’s offensive game, it stands to reason that there would be a bigger discrepancy in performance at home and on the road.

Denver Doesn’t Have the Best Home Court – The thin mountain air of Denver has given the Pepsi Center the rep of being the worst place for opponents to play. No doubt, this is a big part of why the Nuggets are an impressive 12.1 points per 100 possessions better at home than on the road. It’s the Pacers, however, who hold the crown for biggest swing in performance at home versus on the road – outscoring opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions at home but being outscored by 0.7 points on the road. Other teams worth noting include Chicago and Milwaukee, who both show almost no difference in net point production at home and on the road.

Home court is a significant advantage and can be useful in predicting game outcomes, especially when dealing with teams like the Nuggets and Pacers who have huge road/home splits. Ultimately, however, you would rather be a great team than a great home or away team. The Spurs, Thunder, and Heat all perform better both at home and on the road than the teams who have the largest and smallest home splits.

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