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NBA's Substantial Home Court Advantage: What Makes Players Worse On The Road?

SBNation.com's awesome Jon Bois put together a comprehensive and intriguing look at home court advantage in pro sports. As it turns out, among NBA teams over the last three full seasons, the Utah Jazz have the largest spread between home and road performance, with the Denver Nuggets and (for some bizarre reason) Indiana Pacers just behind.

But perhaps most interesting is that NBA teams have a collective home court advantage much stronger than those of their NFL, Major League Baseball and NHL counterparts. From 2007-08 through 2009-10, NBA teams, had they played all 82 games at home, would have won an addition 10.1 percent of matches. The figure for the NFL was just 6.4 percent, baseball was at 5.4 percent and the NHL at 5.2 percent.

That's pretty odd, considering weather isn't a factor in the NBA (as it is in baseball and football) and every NBA court is spacially the same (as opposed to baseball's unique parks). So why do NBA teams win so much more frequently at home? Because of the inherent nature of the NBA schedule.

NBA teams play 41 games at home and 41 games on the road. But many of those NBA games come under duress, because the league always tries to shrink road trips in terms of total days spent travelling (and as such, in team-commissioned hotels and riding team-commissioned planes). As such, nearly all back-to-backs occur on the road. There's really no reason to schedule those episodes during home stands -- even though there are equal games on the road and at home, there is no financial or humanist rationale for keeping homestands as short as possible, as there is for road trips.

Ed Kupfer, currently a Rockets analyst, did a study on the APBRmetrics forum in early 2005 looking at factors in win probability. The language is technical, but in summary, after opponent quality and a home court advantage, days since a team's last game was the biggest factor in determining who wins a game. As teams on the road are typically (not always, but usually) on shorter rest, this serves as an added home court advantage (or more accurately, a road disadvantage).

They say one of the hardest things to do in the NBA is to play a fourth game in five nights -- basically the back end of a back-to-back right after a back-to-back. The fact that at least three and likely all four of those games came on the road dovetails right into Bois' findings that home court means a lot more in the NBA than anywhere else.