How Is Home Court Decided in NBA Playoffs?

Jimmy Remland
By Jimmy Remland 7 Min Read
7 Min Read

In NBA playoffs, home court advantage can be a game-changer. The familiar roar of the crowd, the comfort of one’s own locker room, and the convenience of sleeping in one’s own bed all contribute to a team’s performance. But how is home court decided? Let’s break it down.

Regular Season Records Matter

The road to home court advantage begins during the regular season. Each team’s win-loss record plays a pivotal role. The team with the better regular season record gets the upper hand when it comes to hosting games in the playoffs. This advantage extends to the NBA Finals as well.

Seed Determines Home Court

The NBA playoffs follow a structured seeding system. The higher a team’s seed, the better their regular season performance. Here’s how it works:

  1. First Round: The top seed faces the eighth seed, the second seed faces the seventh, and so on. The higher-seeded team enjoys home court advantage for the first two games of the series.
  2. Second Round (Conference Semifinals): The same principle applies. The higher-seeded team hosts the first two games.
  3. Conference Finals: Again, the team with the better regular season record gets to host the first two games.
  4. NBA Finals: If the two No. 1 seeds from both conferences meet in the Finals, the team with the best overall regular-season record retains home court advantage throughout the series.

The Phoenix Suns’ Advantage

Let’s take a real-world example from the 2020-21 season. The Phoenix Suns clinched the top seed in the Western Conference with an impressive 51-21 record. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks secured the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a 46-26 record. As a result, the Suns had home court advantage in the NBA Finals, hosting their opponents four times if necessary, while the Bucks could only play at home three times.

The Impact of Rest and Wins

While star players occasionally rest during the regular season, every win counts. The Suns, with the fourth-best home court record in the league, were also dominant on the road. The Bucks, though slightly behind in home wins, held their ground away from home. Home court advantage remains highly sought after, even though the percentage of home team wins has dipped in recent years. Over the past eight seasons, home teams won less than 60% of the time during the regular season, and this trend continues in the playoffs.

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The Crucial Game 5

As the NBA Finals progress, the series often reaches a pivotal moment: Game 5. This game can swing the momentum and determine the course of the entire series. Here’s why:

  1. 2-2-1-1-1 Format: The NBA Finals follow a 2-2-1-1-1 format. After the first two games at the higher-seeded team’s home court, the next three games alternate between the two teams’ home courts. Game 5 is crucial because it’s the last game before the change of venue. If the series is tied 2-2, the winner of Game 5 gains a significant advantage. They head back to their home court for Game 6, knowing they have two chances to close out the series.
  2. Historical Impact: Game 5 has witnessed some iconic moments. Think of Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” in 1997, where he battled illness but still led the Chicago Bulls to victory against the Utah Jazz. Or consider Ray Allen’s clutch three-pointer for the Miami Heat in 2013, which forced overtime and eventually led to their championship win. These moments are etched in NBA history and highlight the significance of Game 5.

The Role of Travel Fatigue

Travel plays a crucial role in the NBA playoffs. Teams often crisscross the country, flying from one city to another. The wear and tear of travel can impact performance. When the series is tied 2-2, the team that wins Game 5 not only gains the lead but also avoids additional travel. They return home, rest, and prepare for the next game. Meanwhile, the losing team faces the pressure of a must-win Game 6 on the road.

The Psychological Edge

Home court advantage isn’t just about logistics; it’s also psychological. Players feed off the energy of the crowd. The familiar chants, the sea of team colors, and the deafening roar create an atmosphere that can lift a team. Conversely, playing away from home means dealing with hostile crowds, unfamiliar locker rooms, and disrupted routines. The team that wins Game 5 often carries this psychological edge into the remaining games.

The Impact on Betting Odds

For sports bettors, Game 5 is a critical juncture. Oddsmakers adjust their lines based on the series score. The team leading 3-1 becomes the heavy favorite to win the championship. However, if the series is tied 2-2, the odds even out, and the next game becomes a toss-up. Betting markets react swiftly to Game 5 results, making it a nerve-wracking experience for both fans and gamblers.

In Summary

Home court advantage in the NBA playoffs isn’t just about geography; it’s about momentum, history, and the intangibles that shape the game. As the playoffs unfold, keep an eye on Game 5—it’s where legends are made and destinies are decided.

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