Following Monday's win over Orlando, Kobe Bryant was asked if he's paid attention to the teams the Lakers are chasing in the standings. “Not really. We’re just playing," he said. "Just playing and doing what we need to do. We just want to go into the playoffs, play good basketball, execute, try to minimize mistakes."
So far, so good. Stay focused on what you're doing, right? Control that which can be controlled. He continued.
"Home court advantage to me is overrated."
Hmmm.... While I have no idea if Kobe has had problems with his TPS reports of late, I'm going to have to go ahead and sort of disagree with him, there. History does, too. Statistically speaking, the home team has a major advantage in the NBA playoffs. Via ESPN Stats and Information:
SERIES WON BY TEAM WITH HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE, since 1983-84 (when the NBA went to a 16-team format)
First Round: 166-50 (.769)
Conference Semifinals: 85-23 (.787)
Conference Finals: 37-17 (.685)
NBA Finals: 21-6 (.778)
These are misleading numbers, to some degree, since HCA is not assigned randomly. The best teams earn it, meaning they win not only because of home cooking, but superior talent. Still, the 77.8 percent success rate in the Finals is pretty impressive. I know I'm not the only person who thinks playing Games 6 and 7 of the '10 Finals at Staples was a profound advantage for the Lakers. Certainly the Celtics, based on their comments this season about the importance of home court, agree.
No question, the Lakers are a team fully capable of winning away from Los Angeles. They've done it all year, arguably performing with more consistency in other team's buildings than their own while running up the league's best road record. Multiple road series are hardly a death sentence. Still, there's a big difference between an obstacle being insurmountable and "overrated." Home court may not be the former, but certainly isn't the latter, either.
Here are some particulars:
While the Lakers have had great success in closeout games on the road the last two postseasons, their overall record away from home is 10-11. Meanwhile, the home mark over the same span is a far more robust 21-3. In short, they've had success in big moments on the opposition's floor, but basically never lose on their own.
It's easier to win closeout games on the road when a team knows they'll get another crack at home.
It's not simply about whether the Lakers are comfortable, but what playing at home does for the opposition. Taking home court away from Dallas makes it extremely hard to picture the Mavs beating L.A. Home court will be big for Miami and Chicago should either emerge from the East. Taking a strength away from the opposition can be just as important as gaining it for yourself. More, even.
The splits for the Lakers favor home court over the road. They score more at Staples, and allow fewer points. Supporting players like Steve Blake and Shannon Brown shoot better at home. Kobe's percentages are higher, as are Pau Gasol's. The drop off isn't always much (and in some areas, the Lakers are basically the same team no matter where they play), but still exists. The phenomenon isn't limited just to L.A.'s players, either. Most teams, especially on the bench, suffer at least some one the road.
As Phil Jackson noted last week, teams tend to get more favorable calls on their floor. Think this doesn't matter? If memory serves even Bill Simmons admitted the officiating in Boston during Game 2 of the '08 Finals was awful, heavily favoring his Celtics.
It's all a matter of margin for error. If the Lakers play like they have in the 10 games since the All-Star break, yeah, they can beat anyone anywhere. At full capacity, I still believe they're the best team in the league. Except teams generally don't play at their maximum potential all the time. For stretches, yes, but the season, and certainly the postseason, is too long and grinding not to expect lulls in one form or another. More games on their home court pads the cushion.
Padding is good. It helps deliver wins on nights with imperfect performances.
After the Lakers beat Dallas Saturday night I wrote how the result has a chance to profoundly change the playoff picture. Losing threatened to lock lock L.A. into the West's third seed, perhaps guaranteeing three road series barring upsets changing each conference's brackets. Now only one game behind the Mavs in the loss column for the second spot the Lakers have a great chance to catch them, swinging a potential second-round series heavily in their favor. Saturday's win also kept them in front of Miami, which could come in handy, and let the Lakers keep pace with Chicago. They're creeping closer to Boston now, too, after Monday's win. Over a very difficult portion of their schedule, L.A. has managed to make up games on every team except the equally hot Bulls.
Two road series is a lot better than three. One, if things break well, is even better than two. Both scenarios seem far more likely now than they did 10 days ago, and while Kobe may or may not think it matters much- it's very possible he's de-emphasizing home court advantage on purpose- how much progress the Lakers make in securing the highest possible seed could very well be the difference between a parade and June filled with disappointingly normal commutes up and down Fig.