Home court advantage is particularly significant in the NBA. From year to year home teams win about 60 percent of games that are played, so there is undeniably a boost to be had from playing on the home hardwood. The advantage is almost universal as well – there was only one team in the 2010-11 regular season that won more games on the road than at home. For handicappers the home court advantage is very important to consider. It’s also a concept that is widely misunderstood.
Why is there a home court advantage? Many different factors contribute, but there are four that have the biggest impact in my eyes:
Uniqueness of different buildings – The measurements of basketball courts are all the same, but the NBA arenas can make the experience very different. The age of the court can affect how it feels under the feet of the players. Sight lines can be affected by the design of the building and what is behind the hoops. The temperature in the buildings can be very different. The altitude in Denver is far different than it is in New York. The players who play 41 home games a year in a building are obviously going to be more comfortable on that court than a guy who is only in that building once or twice a year.
Rest – Back-to-back games are a fact of life in the NBA. Most often those games occur when a team is on the road. If you look at how teams perform in the second half of back-to-backs you can see that that accounts for a large portion of the home court advantage because NBA teams struggle playing on short rest against teams well rested and at home. Even in regular games it is much easier to sleep in your own bed than to have to travel between games.
Referee bias – It’s not a conscious response, but time and again studies have shown that referees in all sports tend to favor the home team. The reason for that is straight forward – the crowd is going to be vocal about a bad call, and referees are going to respond to that over time. That can affect NBA lines and certainly your handicapping.
Psychological impact – Home court is an advantage in part because players believe that home court is an advantage. It’s a self-sustaining thing. The confidence of being in the home arena combined with the weariness of being on the road gives the home team a boost before the game even starts.
When dealing with home court advantage here are four tips that will help NBA handicappers find success:
Not all advantages are equal – The general home court advantage is thought to be the equivalent of about three points per game on average. It is very important to remember, though, that an average doesn’t mean that it will be the same in all buildings. There are some buildings that are home to great teams supported by intense crowds that are particularly tough to play in. Other arenas will be barely half full and the fans that are there will be apathetic and sick of losing. It’s important to consider the specific building you are looking at, not the average building, when analyzing NBA point spreads.
The visiting team schedule matters – We talked about how teams perform poorly in the back end of back-to-back games on the road. There are other situations that can challenge road basketball teams and increase the home court advantage. When a team from one coast travels to the other coast, for example, they will often face a long and difficult trip that can wear on the roster.
Handicap as if on a neutral court first – In my opinion the best way to deal with home court advantage in the NBA is to start by ignoring it. Imagine that you are handicapping the two teams as if they were playing on a neutral court in front of equally divided fans. That allows you to get a sense of which team is better and more likely to win with all things being equal. Once you have ascertained that then you can add in the other factors at play – like the setting and the travel – and determine what impact they will have on the previously expected outcome. By looking at games in that way it can be much easier to spot value in professional basketball lines.
Don’t give it too much credit – Home court advantage is very important, but you can’t let it force you into making sports bets or wagering in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise . The advantage is something that should help determine the outcome of your bets, but it shouldn’t determine your bets overall. If you are using the home court advantage to determine bets, or as a starting point for making bets, then you are giving it too much credit in your handicapping. Ultimately the team that wins is the one that scores more points, and there is a lot more that goes into that than where the game is played. That’s about making three-point shots, rebounding, hitting free throws and more.