HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — With just six days left in the regular season, the Western Conference playoff picture isn’t very clear. Four teams are tied with 53 wins and could each finish second, third, fifth or sixth in the conference.
Thursday’s loss at Golden State put the Portland Trail Blazers two games behind the rest of the group. The fourth seed is theirs thanks to their Northwest Division title, but they’re likely to be on the road to start the first round.
Three of the other four teams will have home-court advantage. The 2 seed will host the Dallas Mavericks. The 3 seed will host the 6 seed. And the 5 seed will likely host the Blazers.
But how much does home-court advantage matter?
Since the league went to seven-game series in the first round in 2003, only 37 of 180 series (21 percent) have gone to seven games. And in only three of those series did the home team win all seven games. So in 177 of the 180, the winning team won at least one game on the road.
The home team won 28 of the 37 Game 7s. And going back to 1948, the home team has won 80 percent of the 119 Game 7s in NBA history. That seems like a daunting figure for any team that starts and ends a series on the road.
But the home team is often the much better team. The home-court advantage doesn’t show up as much when you’re looking at two teams that are evenly matched.
There have been 62 series (all rounds) since 2003 that were played between teams that were within *four games of each other in the regular season. And the team with home-court advantage has won only 29 (47 percent) of those 62 series.
*Or within three games in the 2011-12, lockout-shortened season.
Furthermore, 13 of those 62 series have gone to seven games, and eight of the 13 Game 7s (including each of the last three – see below) were won by the road team.
Last three Game 7s between teams that were within four wins of each other in the regular season:
— Brooklyn (road) over Toronto in 2014
— Chicago (road) over Brooklyn in 2013
— Clippers (road) over Memphis in 2012
If you go all the way back, the home team has won 30 of the 44 (68 percent) of Game 7s played between teams that were within *four wins of each other in the regular season. That’s a high percentage, but not as drastic as the 80 percent for all Game 7s. There are plenty of recent examples of good teams overcoming those odds and, as noted already, most series don’t get to Game 7.
*Adjusted for shorter seasons in the 50s and 60s.
This year, we could see three first round series played between teams that finish within four wins of each other: the 3-6 and 4-5 series in the West, along with the 4-5 series in the East (with Chicago, Toronto and Washington in the mix).
There’s no reason why those teams wouldn’t want home-court advantage. But in recent series played between equally good teams, it hasn’t proven to be a difference-maker.