NBA Road Warriors: What Happened to Having a Home-Court Advantage?

Close matchups, overtime thrillers, and, most importantly, gutsy road wins. Whatever happened to home-court advantage in the playoffs?

This year’s NBA Playoffs have been the most competitive in recent memory. Every series has reached the four-game mark, with half of them having already played Game 5. Considering that, the fact that 13 of the 16 playoff teams have already recorded two wins is pretty incredible. Even more surprising, two of the three teams that have failed to record two wins were initially favored in the series (the Rockets and Bulls). The other is the Bobcats and they were the first team eliminated in what was basically the only lopsided series.

There have been eight overtime games so far, which is the new record for a single round, and only two away from the record for an entire Playoffs (again, we’re only four or five games into each series of the first round). There have only been three times in NBA history that a series has had three overtimes, and two of them have come from this year. The Rockets and Blazers have had three overtimes in their four games, and the Thunder and Grizzlies have gone to extra time in four consecutive contests (I’m becoming a broken record about records, but you know – record).

What has made these matchups even more compelling (as if the overtimes weren’t enough) is the way that so many teams have managed to gut out victories on the road. After 36 games, the road teams are a combined 21–15 (an all-time high for road wins and home losses in the first round). Of the 16 teams, only the Bobcats and Warriors have had losing records on the road. The Wizards closed out the Bulls last night in Chicago, resulting in a 3-0 record away from the comfort of the Verizon Center. The Heat and Trail Blazers are both a perfect 2-0 away from their respective barns, the scrappy Hawks and Grizzlies are both 2-1, and the remaining nine teams have split their two away games 1-1. Notably rambunctious crowds like those belonging to the Thunder, Warriors, Blazers, and Raptors have all witnessed their team fall victim to a gutsy road win in person at least once. Home-court advantage is quickly becoming a myth.

TeamHome RecordRoad RecordHome NetRtgRoad NetRtgHome TS%Road TS%

While one might think such a road/home record discrepancy is the result of a lot of lucky bounces, it’s important to note that 10 of the 16 teams in this year’s playoffs actually have a better net rating (points scored per one hundred possessions minus points allowed per one hundred possessions) on the road than they do at home. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but the Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Wizards, Nets, Spurs, Rockets, Hawks, Raptors, Pacers, and Bulls have all dropped games in their own gym and have had more favorable away splits. Some teams have simply done a lousy job of protecting their home floor (the Pacers, Bulls, and Rockets come to mind), but others have shown championship-calibre poise by stepping up and delivering in hostile environments.

Of those 10 teams, the Wizards, Spurs, Rockets, Hawks, Raptors, and Bulls have even had a better true shooting percentage (which accounts for two-point shots, three-pointers, and free throws) as the away team than they have at home. That is fairly atypical, as most teams generally shoot better in the stadiums that they’re more accustomed to and three-point and free-throw accuracy is almost always higher without the presence of raucous opposing fans screaming and waving at you.

The only series where home-court even seems like an advantage (considering the Heat would’ve beaten the Bobcats in Miami, Charlotte, or Timbuctoo) is between the Clippers and the Warriors. The Clippers have a 17.6 net rating at the Staples Center compared to -10.2 at Oracle Arena. The Warriors have played very well on their own floor as well, posting a net rating of 10.2 at home, but a lowly -17.6 on the road. Those represent the largest discrepancies in the whole league by a large margin, but certainly don’t suggest that this hasn’t been a compelling series. Both teams have still managed to claw their way to a victory a piece on the road and with Game 6 going back to Oakland, Golden State should have a good chance to push this thing to seven (assuming basketball fans everywhere can’t get their petition in line to make this a best of 15 before then).

Between the close matchups, overtime thrillers, and valiant road wins, this has already been labeled as a Playoffs for the ages in its first week and a half of action. Thankfully the level of play and competitive spirit are as high as we’ve likely ever seen, so that other distractions haven’t taken us away from what’s important – the pure, unadulterated fun of competitive NBA Playoff basketball. Here’s hoping that that the hits just keep on coming!