One of the daunting questions lingering over the NBA’s plans for a return, which likely will be voted on Thursday during a Board of Governors meeting, is just how the league can maintain some semblance of homecourt advantage once the playoffs begin.
Teams have played 60-plus games, and probably will play more, to establish seeding but the advantage of playing four out of seven games in a series on your home floor is wiped out in a postseason played at a neutral site without fans.
That is going to hurt the two teams that worked hard this year to establish sizable leads in their respective conferences: the Bucks in the East and the Lakers in the West. It’ll be especially tough for Milwaukee, which was 28-3 at home before the season was suspended in March as a response to the spreading of the novel coronavirus.
It could provide an interesting twist for the Celtics, slated to play Philadelphia to open the playoffs, should conference rules remain normal. The Sixers were the best home team in the NBA, at 29-2, but were the worst road team of any playoff contender at 10-24—in fact, that was the seventh-worst road mark in the league.
“It is almost impossible to make it fair,” one coach told Heavy.com. “You can’t replace the advantage of having a playoff game in front of your home fans. The Lakers were not a great home team during the season but it’s still intimidating if you are playing a Game 7 and you’re going to Staples Center and you know the franchise history and the building is loud. That’s a big Lakers advantage. So it levels the playing field for all the teams that are just barely getting into the playoffs or that have middle seeds and are not as good as the top teams. There is no way to avoid that.”
NBA Could Give Advantages to Lakers, Bucks
One thing that will be under consideration when the NBA does come back, according to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin, is small advantages that higher-seeded teams could have as the playoffs get underway. Among those, according to McMenamin:
- More possessions for the team with the higher seed. Typically, the team that wins the jump ball to start the game is awarded the first possession of the fourth quarter and the other team gets the ball to start the second and third quarter. A proposal calls for the higher seed getting the ball to start all three quarters after tip-off.
- One more foul for one player. Rather than being limited to six fouls before disqualification, one player on the higher seeded team would be allowed seven fouls.
- One extra coach’s challenge for the team with the higher seed. This season, according to league numbers, 44% of challenges were upheld, which can prove to be critical in determining the outcome of a game. Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer did not have much luck with challenges, going 4-for-12 this year. Frank Vogel of the Lakers was just 5-for-15, leaving both at 33%.
Boston’s Brad Stevens was among the most frequent users of the challenge and the best at it: He challenged 22 calls and 11 were successful.
Homecourt Advantage Not a ‘Priority’
Other suggestions are likely longshots and probably won’t have much of an impact on how the postseason would play out.
One proposal would be to have the team’s actual floor flown into Orlando and used during the postseason series, to give players more of a feel for their own hardwood. Logistically, that would be a lot of effort for something that likely would not have an impact.
Another calls for teams picking their home hotel at the Disney World complex, the better seeds getting the better hotels. Of course, that is a limited advantage and would require teams to change hotels before the start of the playoffs, which would only increase the chances of coronavirus infection. That’s the very thing the league is trying to avoid.
There may be some concessions but as one East executive told ESPN, homecourt is not something that will cause a hang-up for the league’s return: “I do think the NBA cares about it. I do not think it’s a top priority for them.”
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