Science or mysticism: what is the influence of the court factor?

The 2020 playoffs are being played without an audience and without travel. With that, you lose mystique in the playoffs. But how much does it influence the results?


The bubble playoffs are here, a strange affair in strange times, the most obvious factor in pointing out how exotic this Disney World concentration formula is. Although there were rumors about changes in the format, the division between Conferences and the series to seven games from the first round was finally maintained. But everything is played in the same place, a campus where there is no public and which can be reached without trips of more than fifteen minutes. That obviously separated these 2020 playoffs from the base from the essence of the playoffs: the court factor, hostile environments, deeds or collapses in Comanche territory, travel with the body increasingly cracking as the series progress ...

In Florida, the playoffs are played every other day, with robotic precision in the prerecorded sounds of the audience and the usual effects of each team in their pavilion. There are no trips, no changes in height, no differences in temperature (real and human) between pavilions. For now, the classified teams are the best. In the East, the Raptors have swept the Nets, Celtics and Sixers and the Heat have swept the Pacers. Only the latter started without a theoretical home court factor, but both the Pacers and the Sixers arrived in much worse condition than their rivals. Could they have avoided the match sweep in their pavilion? Surely. But it is hard to believe, in any case, in another final conclusion for the qualifiers. The Bucks are 3-1 and they won't have a problem with the Magic either. But it is another case of obvious sporting superiority: those of Wisconsin would have eliminated those of Florida (who are playing, paradoxically, next to their home, in Orlando) even if the games had been played in Jupiter.

In the West the Lakers and Clippers are one win away from eliminating the Blazers and Mavericks, the Jazz also have a matchpoint (2-3) against the Nuggets and the Rockets and Thunder are tied (2-2) in a so far beautiful tie. If in the first two the field factor does not seem a key issue, the others do seem more interesting. The Rockets have a pavilion that pushes little while the Thunder's is one of the hottest cauldrons in the entire NBA. And more in the playoffs. Likewise, the Nuggets and Jazz traditionally have the most objective field advantages for distance and altitude. But since they faced each other, it is difficult to know what would have come of it without all the parties in the same venue.

How does the court factor really affect? In the first round, 93% of the series (67 out of 72 since 1984) are won by the best classified ... and the one with the home court factor in favor. Although, of course, it seems a question more of talent than of geography: the second seed also wins 92% of the time and the third is imposed in 75% of the cases. Only between fourth and fifth are there more surprises because it is, in short, the series many times more even (or should be) of the first round. In the seventh games there does seem to be an obvious difference: out of 135 there have been, 78.5% have resulted in victories for the home team. In the Finals, it's a 15-4.

In general, Howard Beck recalled in a recent article, teams shoot 1% worse and are called a personal foul more than average when they play away. The local team usually wins between 58 and 60% of their matches, a figure that rises around 5% if they arrive with more rest than the visitor and that, conveniently, also drops 5% if it is the other way around. It is generally considered that having a field advantage has obvious advantages for the public (pressure to the referees, adrenaline of the players, psychological factor), for the scene itself (comfort, more natural feeling of the premises ...) and for the trips. Height is an obvious driving force for the Nuggets (over 1,600 meters in Denver, the Mile High) and Jazz (almost 1,300 meters in Salt Lake City) .

According to a study by SB Nation, the NBA (although it does not have a decisive influence on other sports such as the weather) is the American professional league in which the home court factor is most noticeable: home teams would win 10.1% more if they played always on his track. That turns a team with 41 wins (50%) into one of 45. In the NFL the figure is 6.4%, in the MLB it is 5.4% and in the NHL it is 5.2%. With the constant improvement of travel and accommodation conditions, and above all with the adjustment of the calendar to soften the schedule of matches, reduce back to backs (two games in two nights) and cancel the dreaded rounds of four games in five nights, the court factor has also been suffering. Meanwhile, the pavilions are filled with an audience that is often less fierce and more contemplative and, also in many cases, familiar.

Another study, this one from 2012, placed the advantage for home teams at around 3.5 points in even matches. The Jazz raised their margin of victory by 6 when playing on their court and were down 4.8 out. A difference of almost 11 points in a season in which, a rare case, the Bulls were better (+8.2 by +8.1) away from Chicago. In the 80s, that advantage for the home team soared above four points. This study, which measured the performance of teams between 2006 and 2010, evaluated local victories based on several factors: rest days for the home team and the visitor (and the differences between one and the other) and altitude in the halls. The margins ranged from 82.6% (altitude conditions and two or more days of rest of advantage for the home team to 35.7% when it was the visitor who had that greater margin of rest.

Hoopshype analyzed all the games of all the franchises in their current pavilions and, not at all a surprise, Nuggets (+ 31.4%) and Jazz (+28) appeared as two of the three franchises with the highest percentage of games winning on their court compared to when they played away (the other was Indiana Pacers, 28.2%). The best local teams, in any case, coincide with the great historical teams. It's no coincidence either: Michael Jordan's Bulls went 39-2 in the regular season at Chicago in their best two years (1995-97) when they went 72-10 and 69-13 en route to the fourth and fifth rings of their game. dynasty. The 73-9 Warrios equaled that 39-2 at home in that 2015-16 season in which the Spurs signed 40-1 and lost only to the Warriors themselves in one of the last games of the regular season. They thus became the second team with only one defeat on their track, something that the historic Celtics of the 1985-86 season had achieved.

Modern times have improved travel and gaming conditions, professionalized every last detail, and changed the profile and style of fans who retain a college spirit only in certain locations, like Oklahoma City. The new Celtics Garden no longer has the damage to the parquet that the greens knew by heart. Not Red Auerbach leaving the rival team without hot water or in need of oxygen respirators because magically the cooling had failed and it was playing at more than 36 degrees. LA's nightlife is still tempting and the stars are still dominating Hollywood, but the Lakers' Staples is not the old Forum. San Antonio no longer plays in the gigantic Alamodome, the ABA spirit has been lost in the home of the Pacers and Salt Lake City continues to have the height and some fans without much more motivation than their basketball team, crowded in a front row that they literally throw themselves on the track. But the Jazz pavilion roars less than in the days of Karl Malone and John Stockton (38-3 in the 1996-97 season). The Knicks have not assembled teams capable of feeding Madison, a historic madhouse when their team really competed; and in Chicago the rivals no longer tremble as when the introduction of the Bulls started with the animation of the bulls going through the streets of the city and the notes of "Sirius" by Allan Parsons. Of course: Denver, Salt City and Portland will always continue to have the height, the long distances, the cold when it plays. It's obvious that the boiling stands encourage feats and that without them much of the mystique of the playoffs is lost. But it is not so clear that the outcome of this 2020 edition, we will see what it is, would have been different from what the Florida qualifiers will finally throw, which are being played (which is not little) in conditions of absolute neutrality.

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