May 13, 2008

Is home court a self-fulfilling prophecy?

If you ask me, these NBA playoffs have become a little too predictable. Like top-tier tennis players slugging it out, holding serve until the set reaches a tiebreaker, the remaining teams seem invincible on their home courts.

When the series swaps cities, though, Dr. Jekyll stays home and Mr. Hyde doesn't seem to travel well.

Throughout the regular season, NBA teams playing at home were
769-491 (.611 winning percentage), but keep in mind that includes Miami and Seattle, which were woeful wherever they played. In the Conference Semifinals the home team is 11-1 (.917), with the only defeat coming to the Magic at the hands of the Pistons.

I understand that at home the fans are booing instead of cheering, and players can shoot free throws without the distraction of waving balloons or cowbells. And it makes sense that sleeping in your own bed and preparing in your own locker room and playing on your own home floor give somewhat of an advantage.

But I'm starting to wonder if the expectation of winning at home -- and by extension, losing on the road -- is as great a factor as any. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Home teams are supposed to win, so they play more focused, intelligent and physical basketball. Away teams are supposed to lose, so they loosen up the screws a bit, maybe try something different, and the net result is sloppy and/or lethargic play.

My theory is a little bit "out there," so I'd be interested in any other explanations for what we've seen in the last couple of weeks. In the meantime, excuse me while I watch the Hornets win Game 5.