NBA Playoff Confessions Day 6: I Preferred Playing on the Road
When I was in college and high school, all of my better games were reserved for the road. Granted, I didn’t play in front of the enormous crowds that some major college programs and Professional NFL and NBA teams play in front of, but I definitely was in places that anybody would consider hostile environments.
So why was I better on the road than I was away from home? Factually, there is nothing that could tell you why; there’s only the stats that will tell you that it indeed happened. In my mind, however, I know exactly why I played better on the road. It’s because I wanted to prove everybody wrong. And quite frankly, whenever I played in front of my home crowd, it never dawned on me that anybody on my side would doubt me. It was those haters on the road that I knew had disdain for me, and so I had disdain for them. And while no one can statistically measure motivation, there’s no doubt that mine was higher whenever I walked out of the visitor’s locker room.
In the NBA, however, that just isn’t the case. Players and teams play better at home, and you don’t have to look past your average NBA Standings page to find that out. The best team in the NBA during the 2011 season was the Chicago Bulls. They won 75% of all their regular season games. However, they won 87% of their games at home and only 63% of their games on the road. Case and point: the best team in the NBA played more like the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference if you only measure their road games.
But why is that? Why does a group of professional NBA players, who are among the top 1% of people in the world that play that sport, have its performance altered so drastically when they play in front of a group of people rooting against them?
Again, objectively speaking, there’s no answer for this. There are no “actual” reasons why a player should be affected by people booing them. All of the basketball statisticians in the world disagree on why players play differently at home than they do on the road, and rarely do you see these numbers people disagree so fervently. The one thing they can agree on is with information like the one I just gave the Bulls—that for whatever reason; teams do play better at home.
That really makes gambling on the 2011 NBA Playoffs a ridiculous notion. For the first two games of a series, it’s actually quite easy to make predictions. After all, the favored team is at home, so we think the style of the game will be in the better team’s favor, and we can make our bets with that assumption, even accounting for the upset or a close game if we know the teams are fairly evenly matched. However, when the series shifts to the underdog’s home floor, what in the hell are you supposed to do then?
In looking at the lines for Thursdays NBA playoff games, you will see that the #3 seed, the Dallas Mavericks, is slated to lose to the #6 seeded Portland Trailblazers by 6 points. This goes against the very fact that Dallas is considered the favorite, and it’s all because Portland is playing at home. But it’s not just that Portland is favored to win the game despite being the underdog in the series, but it’s also ludicrous that they were favored to win by six points. If you look at the fact that Dallas was favored by 3.5 points when they were at home, that means Vegas (and the people who make the bets) are telling you that Portland will play 9.5 points better at home than they will on the road.
While logically that makes sense given the history of the NBA, a bettor can’t do anything with that information. How is someone who just won money off of betting Dallas to beat Portland by at least 4 points supposed to bet on the exact opposite happening because of a change in scenery?
I couldn’t do it, and I imagine there is a lot less action on Game 3’s in the NBA Playoffs. There’s just too much one doesn’t know. Is the underdog of the series actually going to play better at home? Is the favored team actually going to play worse? Sure, their regular season performances suggest that those are indeed the scenarios that will play out when the series goes from one arena to the next, but the postseason is a different monster, and teams like Indiana all of a sudden start playing defense.
So, I confess, I don’t get home court advantage. I know that statistically speaking, I have to recognize that it exists, but like all of the gamblers out there, I have no idea when and where it’s going to rear its ugly head. Frankly, I think all gamblers would be better off to avoid placing bets money on Game 3’s, such as the one coming up between Boston and New York in which the Knicks are actually favored to win at home. Seriously? Even as a Knicks fan, I can’t put money on that one!