With the Milwaukee Bucks well-positioned to finish with the league’s best record, just how important is having home court advantage to making a deep run?
The Milwaukee Bucks are in a prime position to finish with the best record in the NBA.
After Tuesday night’s games, the Bucks remain 2.5 games ahead of the Raptors for the best record in the East and in the league overall. They also remain four games ahead of the Western Conference leading Golden State Warriors for the league’s best record.
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Given the unique position the Bucks find themselves in, it raises an interesting question: Just how important is home court advantage to making a deep playoff run?
On the surface, home court advantage may not seem as important as it once was. Some who are skeptical of the Bucks regular season success have pointed to the 60-win Atlanta Hawks team that Bucks Coach Mike Budenholzer had in 2015 as a good example of how meaningless regular season success can be. That team finished as the top seed in the East, but got swept by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals that season.
Home court, however, is still critically important to helping a team sustain a deep playoff run, especially one that ends with the NBA title.
Seven of the past 10 NBA champions have either had the top seed in their conference, or the NBA’s best record. Of those teams, four (Miami 2013, Spurs 2014, Warriors 2015, Warriors 2017) had the best record in the NBA during the regular season.
The team with the best record during the regular season has also made it to The Finals in five of the past six seasons.
Only in three of the past ten seasons have neither of the top seeds made it to at least the NBA Finals. The circumstances of those years are worth analyzing.
In 2011, the Chicago Bulls had the best record in the NBA during the regular season. The Bulls lost in the Eastern Conference Finals that year to the Miami Heat, the team that entered the season as the heavy title favorites after bringing in LeBron James and Chris Bosh the previous summer to create the “Big 3.”
The Spurs, who were the top seed in the West that year, were upset in the first round by the Memphis Grizzlies who became just the second eighth seed ever to win a first round series. Though that Spurs team was stunned in the first round, the Grizzlies proved to be a hassle in the following round as well, taking the young Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the Conference Semis.
The following season, 2012, saw the Bulls repeat as the best record during the regular season. However, the Bulls would lose their MVP, Derrick Rose, in Game 2 of the opening round. They collapsed without him and lost in six games.
The Spurs, who repeated as the top seed out west, would make it to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Durant, Harden, and Westbrook-led Thunder in six.
Even in the third instance, last season, there were unique circumstances. The Raptors, who were the Eastern Conference’s best team during the regular season, got rolled by LeBron James yet again in the Eastern Conference Semis. However, the NBA’s best regular season team, the Houston Rockets, took a 3-2 lead against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before losing in seven. Without an injury to their star point guard, Chris Paul, in game five, the Rockets may have won that series.
Thus, in all three seasons, the best regular season team in the league either suffered a significant injury that derailed their run, or ran into a superior side.
Beyond The Finals, at least one top seed has made it to their respective conference finals in each of the past ten seasons. Only the 2010 Cavs and 2012 Bulls failed to make it to at least the conference finals after having the league’s best record.
As these stats suggest, home court advantage, both within a conference and overall, is still a major asset in helping a team make a deep playoff run.
Things are looking a lot more promising for the Bucks than they have for the past several teams who ended up with the Eastern Conference’s top seed too. Unlike them, the Bucks will not have to face a LeBron James-led team.
The Bucks record at Fiserv Forum stands at 25-5, which is among the best home records in the NBA. The Bucks are very difficult to beat on their home court.
The advanced stats around the Bucks also suggest this team is no fluke. Given the talent and depth they have, the Bucks are well-stocked to make a major run this spring.
If the Bucks are going to make a deep playoff run, which they certainly have the talent to do, securing home court advantage will be crucial for sustaining such a run.