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Wednesday, June 7

   by Larry Ness - 06/07/2006

The NBA Finals begins tomorrow night in Dallas (9:00 ET on ABC), where the Mavericks are favored by five points over the Heat. The total for Game 1 is currently 192 1/2. The Mavs are about minus-$1.60 to win the series. Today begins my NBA Finals' coverage with a history lesson on the current 2-3-2 format now used exclusively for the Finals. Tomorrow, I'll offer much more on this year's players, coaches and teams.

My free play for Wednesday is on the NY Mets over the LA Dodgers at 10:10 ET. I have a HUGE Wednesday in store, as I look to continue my current 9-3 75% MLB run since May 30. Early risers can get my 15* NL Getaway Day Game of the Month plus there's my 15* Rivalry Classic tonight on the Red Sox/Yankees at 7:05 ET. Once a month and ONLY once a month, I release an Oddsmaker's Error in MLB. I won April's (4/21 on Hou) and May's (5/7 on SD), so June's, available right now, is a "can't miss' opportunity!

2-3-2 FORMAT

The NBA changed its traditional 2-2-1-1-1 seven-game format in the Finals to the current format in 1985. Now, the team with the better record opens and closes the series with two home games, while its opponent gets three consecutive home games in the middle (Games 3-5). At the time, the prevailing wisdom was that this new format could very possibly benefit the team without the home court edge.

Two scenarios were mentioned as negatives for the team with Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 at home. The first being, that the road team could win one of the series' first two games and then return home for three consecutive games and by winning all three, never have to play again away from home. The second was, that Game Five (especially if the series were tied at 2-apiece) was now being played on the home court of the team with the worst record!

Lets look at the results, after 21 years. Over the last 21 NBA Finals, the team with the home court edge, has won 16 of the 21 series played, or 76.2 percent. In comparison the previous 21 years (2-2-1-1-1), the team with the home court edge won just 13 times, or 62.9 percent!

Only one team under the revised format, the 2004 Pistons, has ever split Games 1 and 2 on the road and returned home to sweep those middle three games! Surprisingly, three times a team has split the first two games on the road, only to return home and lose all three games (it happened in 2001, 1991 and 1990)!

As far as Game Five scenarios go in which the series was tied a 2-2, it's occurred six times. While the home team has won that Game 5 three of the six times, just once have they gone on to take the series (the Lakers in 1985, the first year of the format). The 1988 Lakers lost Game 5 at Detroit but returned home to win Games 6 & 7 in LA, as did the 1994 Rockets (losing Game 5 in NY but winning Games 6 & 7 in Houston).

In 1992, the Bulls won Game 5 in Portland and closed out the Blazers in Game 6 at Chicago and in 1997, the Bulls won Game 5 in Utah and closed out the Jazz back in Chicago in Game 6! Last year, the Spurs won Game 5 in Detroit and then returned home to lose Game 6 before clinching the tile with a win in Game 7.

Maybe even more surprisingly, two times a team has had an opportunity to close out the Finals at home in Game 5, only to fail! In 1993 against Phoenix and in 1998 against Utah, the Bulls held a three games-to-one lead heading into a Game 5 at home but lost! Each time however, they recovered to capture the series, by winning Game 6 (on the road).

So what we've actually seen since the switch to the 2-3-2 format, is even a greater advantage for the team with the home court edge, not a lesser one as many had feared! A closer look shows that over the last 21 years, teams playing Games 1 & 2 plus Games 6 & 7 at home are 38-18 .679. Over the previous 21 years, teams owning the home court advantage got Games 1, 2, 5 & 7 at home and went 43-23 .672. That's not much a difference.

However, the difference shows up in the teams without the home court advantage! In the years of the 2-2-1-1-1 format, teams playing Games 3, 4 & 6 at home, went 31-24. .564. However, under the current format of Games 3 thru 5 at home, they've gone just 29-31 (.483) and that includes a 5-1 run the last two years by the Pistons. Teams with the middle three games at home had gone just 24-30 (.444) prior to that.

Pointing out the disadvantage of this format even more to the team without the home court advantage, is this. Of the five teams that have won the title since 1985 without the home court edge in the Finals (the 1985 Lakers, the 1993 Bulls, the 1995 Rockets, the 1998 Bulls and the 2004 Pistons), history shows that those teams won not so much as a result of them winning their home games but rather by them being able to win their road games.

They did go a combined 10-4 at home (just 7-4 prior to Detroit's 3-0 sweep in '04), but also went an equally good 10-3 (.769) in their road games! Under the 2-2-1-1-1 format, where eight teams without the home court edge won the title the previous 21 seasons, those teams "won it at home!" They went 18-3 (.857) in home games, while going just 14-12 (.538) on the road!

What this clearly points out is that having three consecutive home games in the middle of a seven-game series, is no advantage. If the Heat are to beat the Mavericks in this year's Finals, history tells us they'll have to do it by winning at least twice in Dallas. They get their first chance tomorrow night. Thursday's notes will have much more on this year's Finals.

Ness Notes is available Monday through Friday by 1:00 ET.

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