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:
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.
Tough Roadies: 9
Super-Tough Roadies: 2
Tough Roadies: 6
Super-Tough Roadies: 3
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:
2/6: @ Knicks
2/11 @ New Orleans
2/12 @ Dallas
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.