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Saturday, May 8, 2021

There’s not much home-court advantage these days in the NBA

Road trips in the NBA these days are somewhere between dreadful and boring. Favorite restaurants are off limits. Hanging out with friends or old teammates is difficult or impossible. Leaving the hotels for anything other than games and practices is pretty much a no-no, all in the interest of safety during the pandemic.

The plus side: There’s more winning than usual.

Home-court advantage this season in the NBA is basically nonexistent. Through Monday, home teams were winning 51.7% of the time — on pace to be the lowest such rate in NBA history.

The previous low was set last season, 55.1%. And the erosion of the home-court edge was becoming a thing even before teams went into the Walt Disney World bubble last summer; it wasn’t all because of the games that were played in Central Florida without fans. This will be the eighth consecutive season in which the home-court win rate is below 60%, so the phenomenon is not new.

It’s just never been this pronounced.

“There is no home court advantage in the NBA this season,” longtime NBA coach George Karl tweeted this past week. “The Away team may actually have the advantage on the road without opposing fans and energy.”

He’s not wrong.

There are some cities where it’s still very tough to win. Philadelphia was a league-best 29-2 in its building last season; the 76ers are a league-best 10-1 at home this season. Milwaukee was 28-3 at Fiserv Forum a year ago; the Bucks are 8-2 there this season.

Miami was 27-5 at home last season. So far this season, the Heat are 5-6, the most recent of those losses coming Monday when they wasted a 10-point lead in the final 2:47 of regulation and fell to Charlotte. Part of it is surely because the Heat have experienced significant roster depletion because of injuries and virus-related issues.

But Denver coach Michael Malone also pointed out that late nights socializing in the league’s stops that are bustling with nightlife — Miami, New York and Los Angeles would be among the places that apply there — aren’t possible right now.

“When a team goes to certain cities, there are always pitfalls, nightclubs and whatever you want to call it,” Malone said last week before his Nuggets routed the Heat by 27 points — the franchise’s biggest margin of victory at Miami since 1989. “Now you go to a city, there are not really as many distractions.”

There are some exceptions to the home-court-doesn’t-matter theory.

Kyle Lowry has played in seven “road” games this season — they’re all road games this season for Toronto, really, even though Tampa has created some comforts of home for the Raptors — and his team has gone 0-7 in those games.

Maybe he was due for a slide like that; the Raptors won their last 12 “road” games with Lowry in the lineup last season and 22 of their last 24, though eight of those games were in the bubble. The last time Lowry played in a longer streak of road losses was 2012, when he was part of 15 in a row.

Detroit and Minnesota are 1-8 away from home, and Toronto and Miami are 2-7.

“I still think there is a home-court advantage,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I don’t know what it is right now in the league, it’s probably around 50% as far as the road wins, but I do think there is a home-court advantage — to a degree.”

The lack of a home edge isn’t just an NBA issue, but it’s not universal either.

NFL teams technically had a losing record at home this regular season — 127-128-1, the first time they’ve been below .500 since 1968. San Francisco went 0-3 at home games at a neutral site in Arizona, but even if those are taken out of the equation (and the home mark went back over .500) it was still the worst league-wide “home” record in those 53 seasons.

Baseball went the other way, and hockey is headed that way. Home MLB teams won at a .556 clip last season, the best percentage in a decade. That includes the Toronto Blue Jays going 17-9 in “home” games played in Buffalo; weirdly, that was a huge improvement over how they fared in Toronto in 2019.

And NHL teams are off to flying home starts. Even with most buildings empty, NHL clubs through Sunday were off to their best-combined home record since World War II.

Go figure.

“It is different,” Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “You still do have to travel, fly into these cities, go to these arenas. But the fans do make a big difference.”

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