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How the Flu could have determined home court

 
Oh how crucial those little fireworks can be

Oh how crucial those little fireworks can be

As I write this, I’m in the morally uncomfortable position of rooting (really hard, actually) for the Knicks to beat Cleveland. (Update: Lebron > Knicks).

That’s how important home court advantage is going to be — there are 30 games left in the season, and I’m scoreboard-watching like the Celtics are some National League wild card contender who need the Diamondbacks to lose. We all know how crucial home court was last season.

It was shaping up to be even more important this season before Jameer Nelson’s injury sabotaged the Magic’s title chances. Nelson’s injury makes a potential second-round match-up with Orlando a little less frightening — a little. They remain far more dangerous than the deeply flawed teams below them in the standings (Atlanta, Detroit and Miami).

Home court could still decide which of the Two True Eastern Conference Contenders will face the Lakers for the title, and whether they’ll have home court advantage against LA.

I spent some time going through the remaining schedules of the Celtics, Lakers and Cavs. The details are after the jump, but I’ll give you the conclusions now:

  1. Either Boston or Cleveland will finish with the best record in the league.
  2. Cleveland has a slightly easier schedule than Boston
  3. Whether Boston wins home court will likely be decided in the next two weeks.

And the evidence: This site gives us the combined winning percentages of each team’s remaining opponents, adjusted for whether a team is facing an opponent at home or on the road.

By this metric, the Celtics (.523 opp. winning percentage) have a slightly harder schedule than the Cavs (.510) and Lakers (.497) — this despite the Lakers playing the easiest schedule in the Western Conference so far this season. (Life in the Pacific Division must be nice).

Still, the big picture difference is minor, and the sample size is small enough (30 games or so) that we probably have to dig a little deeper to find out who really has the toughest road ahead.

So I did two things. I counted up how many back-to-backs each team has left; teams win the second game of back-to-back only 43 percent of the time, so having two or three fewer in the last stretch of the season could determine who’s hosting Game 7 of a Cleveland-Boston series.

Second, I wanted to find out how many really high degree of difficulty games each team still has to play. I arbitrarily defined the toughest games as road games against teams with a .667 or better home winning percentage.

(There are 12 such teams. I’m not going to list them. They are who you think they are. THEY ARE WHO YOU THINK THEY ARE!) The toughest of all games would be facing an elite home team on the second half of a back-to-back.

Paul Peirce takes a closer look at our numbers

Boston
Back-to-backs: 6
Tough Roadies: 9
Super-Tough Roadies: 2

Cleveland
Back-to-backs: 8
Tough Roadies: 6
Super-Tough Roadies: 3

Lakers
Back-to-backs: 7
Tough Roadies: 9
Super-Tough Roadies: 5

I’m counting the Lakers out. They may play in the Pacific Division, but they also play in the Western Conference, and they’ve got second-nighters upcoming at Portland, Boston, Utah, Denver and San Antonio. Even with Bynum, holding off Boston and Cleveland for the top record would be tough.

It’s a coin toss, really, between the Cavs and Boston. Boston’s got more tough road games, Cleveland has a couple more back-to-backs. It’s too close to call. For the Celtics, this means the upcoming stretch of eight games is the most important of the season and may determine whether they win the top seed.

Check it out:

2/5: Lakers
2/6: @ Knicks
2/8: Spurs
2/11 @ New Orleans
2/12 @ Dallas

All-Star Break

2/19 @ Utah
2/22 @ Phoenix
2/23 @ Denver

A brutal stretch of games, helped only by the All-Star break providing a rest and Chris Paul’s groin pulling a Fred Taylor. The Cavs are in the middle of a much easier run of games, and they’re playing so well that, realistically, the Celtics almost have to go at least 6-2 in this stretch. That’s asking a lot.

If they can pull it off, though, they can hope the Cavs will fall back a little when Cleveland plays four consecutive tough road games (two sets of back-to-backs, actually) at Houston, San Antonio, Atlanta and Miami between Feb. 26 and March 2.

Whichever team performs best during those stretches will probably win home court — and, with it, a major edge in the race for a championship.

  • Tyler

    you wrote "this despite the Lakers playing the easiest schedule in the Western Conference so far this season. "… uh… the Lakers are the only team in the Western Conference who don't have to play the Lakers. So you might want to re-think your logic there. Unlike the East, where you have 3 elite teams, in the West, it's pretty much only the L's.

  • Eugene

    Yeah. try not to be such a loser next time. and fyi i wouldn't post a picture of yourself.

  • AB

    Man you are a fool – when all teams play each other, the strength of schedule will have the best team at the bottom. So the next time you get a math related brainwave, let is swirl upstairs for a bit before writing. If you still don't get it, ask somebody else.

  • Jordan

    Tyler:

    Yes, the L*kers are the only ELITE team in the West but there are 6-7 other teams in the West that can hang with them and are EXPECTED to. In the East? Nobody expects the big three to be in dog fights with the rest. It's more about divisions in the West and the L*kers are in the easiest which means easiest schedule in the West.

  • ZLakeShow

    Here's an important point you forget when trying to denigrate the Lakers' supposedly easy schedule: The Celtics play 17 back-to-back sets, but they play against teams that are on the second night of a back-to-back 19 times. The Lakers play 19 back-to-back sets, but they play against only 10 teams that are playing the second night of a back-to-back. You make a big deal out of how tough back-to-back games are. Make a big deal out of this.

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  • Tyler

    Jordan:

    You don't understand my criticism. He is using strength of schedule, which is a metric defined by opposing team W-L records. In the east, there are 3 teams with few losses (orlando, cleveland, boston), In the west, there is only one (la). There is very little opportunity, aside from 2 challenges per year with ORL/BOS/CLE that LA can have someone on their schedule with such a record, otherwise they are playing teams with .600 or below records. Every team in the West will play LA at least 3-4 times, elevating their strength of schedule, while LA will be at the lowest.

    My criticism is that he used the wrong stat to define his case, and then wrote an entire theorem around this bad logic. It's horrible science, a misapplication of math.

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  • http://www.boxscorebasketball.com greg

    this is for "AB".

    Zach is not a 'fool'. He's pretty smart because he realizes that I (yes, I run Box Score Basketball) subtract out the games against such opponents so the strength of schedule will NOT necessarily have the best team at the bottom.

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