Trail Blazers

Is the NBA's homecourt advantage shrinking without frenzied fans in those arenas?

Trail Blazers

Homecourt advantage used to be a very big deal in the NBA. It has been in all sports, but particularly in the NBA.

But so far this season, that hasn’t been the case. The fact that fans are not allowed in arenas seems to be having a big impact on results in the league. At least that’s the way it looks.

Last season, 10 of the 15 Western Conference teams compiled home records above the .500 mark. Take a guess right now as to how many West teams have won more than 50 percent of their home games.

If you said three, you would be correct. And that includes some of the best teams in the conference. The Lakers are 2-3 at home. The Clippers are 2-2. The Jazz are 1-2. The Spurs are 1-3 and the Grizzlies are 0-5. Yes, small sample size, but I would have thought it might take the Lakers six weeks to lose three home games.

That makes Sacramento’s 3-1 home record heading into Saturday night’s game vs. the Trail Blazers look pretty good.

Terry Stotts was asked whether he sees a decline in homecourt advantage in games played in fanless arenas.

 

“I think it's hard to put a percentage on it,” Stotts said Friday, before his team took off to play the Kings. “I still think that there is a homecourt advantage just because of the travel, being at a hotel, the routine.

“There still is piped-in noise, familiar surroundings, things like that. Obviously, it's not as much without the fan influence, no question. But I still think there is a home court advantage.”

I would agree. But I'm not sure it's what it used to be.

There was a study a few years ago that indicated that the homecourt advantage didn’t have to do with a crowd’s frenzied energy boost to the players on the home team, but perhaps because of the impact the crowd has on those people officiating the games.

The study used the league’s data base of calls made in the last two minutes of close games, which includes a public judgment of good calls, bad calls and good non-calls and bad non-calls.

And it found that the visiting teams suffered more damage than the home teams:

“In every category, the home team benefited. More infractions were correctly called on the away team. The away team is the victim of more incorrect calls. And the home team is the beneficiary of more incorrect non-calls.”

After years of watching NBA games from an unbiased point of view, I believe this study is correct. I believe fans -- with their physical reactions -- caused whistles to blow far more often than they should.

And in these empty arenas, that fake crowd noise is not influencing officials. The home teams are very often not getting those borderline calls they used to get on fouls, violations and just about anything else in the game, including issuing technical fouls.

Keep it in mind as you watch games this season and let me know if you agree.