Home-court advantage in the NBA can mean different things to different people. To some, it’s about the crowd’s cheers and energy that encourages a team over its opponents. For others, it’s about the players’ routines, closeness to home, and the ability to get comfortable before games.
Lots of factors can go into home-court advantage. But science might have a definitive answer for who has the best in the NBA.
What makes home-court advantage in the NBA?
A common reason fans give for the best home-court advantage is fan noise, explains Bleacher Report. Certain fanbases create specific energy.
New Yorkers will swear Madison Square Garden has the best home-court advantage due to the loud fans and historic nature of the building. Thunder fans were notoriously loud during their glory years, and Sacramento Kings fans brought the ARCO Thunder for a long time. Crowd noise is hard to gauge.
Another factor: Different arenas have effects on opponents who are not used to certain factors. In Houston, the crowd is a little bit further away from the court. It’s been theorized that this throws off the distance perception of visiting teams. In Boston, the floor design has been said to mess with vision, too.
At Staples Center, some swear that the showtime nature of Lakers games combined with the seemingly endless presence of Hollywood stars makes everything special. New Orleans and Miami have reputations for players seeming like they had late nights due to all the festivities.
Most of these are likely minimal at best. But two arenas have an especially poignant advantage that science can explain.
Which NBA team has the best home-court advantage?
The aforementioned factors may help players in some regards. But they are likely superstitions more than scientifically-proven advantages. This isn’t the case for the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets, however. When factoring in it all, these two NBA teams historically perform better than almost every other franchise.
This is likely due, in part, to the fact that these two teams play at the highest altitudes. Anyone from a low-elevation area who’s visited a city at a high altitude knows how hard it can be to simply walk upstairs or cross a long path.
Playing basketball in these high-altitude environments means playing in thinner oxygen. Fatigue can catch up to even the most physically fit players in the league. While Utah plays at 4,265 feet, this outlier has always been more obvious in Denver.
After all, a team in “The Mile-High City” must be prepared for these types of environments. This is when practicing can be vital. Human bodies can adapt to environments, and having hundreds of hours of practice time at 5,280 feet can do wonders.
How’s it working this year?
In the Jazz’s case, this year may be proof of this theory. The team is only 12-9 in their first 21 road games and 15-3 through 18 home games. Opponents average nearly four fewer points a game in Utah than they do when Utah competes on the road. Their shooting goes down, too.
Similarly, Denver is 16-5 at home as opposed to 11-7 on the road. Opponents score three points less and shoot slightly worse in the Mile High City. This is a small sample size. But with both teams showing improvement, the fact that Denver and Utah have both performed better at home and opponents seem to play worse shows just how valuable this advantage can be.
In the end, there are greater factors to wins and losses, but every arena has some built-in advantages and disadvantages that, at the very least, can explain why teams play slightly better — even if talent eventually trumps all.
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