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NBA Home Courts and Motivation

   by Bryan Leonard - 03/31/2006

As we approach the final weekend of the college basketball season and the last few weeks of the NBA regular season, it’s apparent that home court and motivation are important handicapping elements. There are several NBA teams on the playoff bubble, meaning they should have extra motivation to show up every night. Milwaukee, Philly, Utah and Chicago fall into this category in the NBA. Of course, when motivated teams have home court, those are two key edges for a single game. And if a team in that situation happens to be hosting a team that is going nowhere, that’s three motivational edges for one game.

The Final Four this weekend doesn’t have any home court edge, but that came up in one of the NIT games this week that I used. When South Carolina played Louisville earlier this week, neither team had home court as it was at a neutral site. However, turning some analytical thinking around for a moment and you can find a different approach to that game. Louisville is a very young team, and we know that young teams often play well in front of their home crowds, but can be poor away from home. This year’s Louisville team falls into that category, going 2-9 on the road!

When I put together my analysis of the Louisville/South Carolina game, it was clear that experience and youth were stark contrasts between the two and that was reflected in their play. Louisville shoots just 38.3% from the field when taking to the road. The Cardinals were also outrebounded by 4 per game away from home. Louisville had the luxury of playing several home games in the NIT tournament, but now they headed out to a neutral site to play the Gamecocks.

South Carolina, on the other hand, is 13-9 straight away from home, as they flattened Louisville, then trounced Michigan in the NIT title game. Impressively, the Gamecocks actually outshoot the opposition 45.3% to 44.6% away from home. They also held their own on the glass averaging 32 rebounds while allowing 32 per game. In the NIT tournament South Carolina went into two hostile arenas and beat Florida State and Cincinnati, holding both teams to under 42% shooting. South Carolina has won 9 of their last 10 games with the only loss coming to a Florida team by 2 that is still alive playing in the Final Four this weekend. Examining home/road play was critical in that analysis. Even though both teams were playing on a neutral court, an examination of their road play all season held important handicapping clues. I summed up with, “Look for South Carolina to advance easily,â€쳌 which they did and you can see what I was looking at.

Home court is no longer a factor in college basketball, but will be over the next few months as the NBA regular season winds down and in the playoffs. Examine road trips carefully, how many home games bubble teams have left, as well as how teams have fared on the road all season. I’m not just talking about overall home and road records, but stats, points allowed, shooting percentages, team defense. A team like the Cavaliers, for instance, plays very good defense at home (91 ppg allowed), but weak defense on the road (99 ppg allowed). Notice, too, that the Cavs seem to get up for division games, allowing just 88 ppg (13-2 under the total against divisional opponents). They are also 11-5 SU, 8-5 ATS against divisional opponents. The Celtics are 10-26 on the road where they allow 103 ppg, 7 more per game than they allow at home. For sports bettors, notice that Boston is 23-13 over the total on the road! Motivation and home court are key factors to study over the next few months.

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