In no other sport does home court advantage matter more than NBA basketball. With the crowd sitting so close to players that they can have a conversation (or give them a not-so-friendly wave, as this woman reminded everyone during Game 2 of the Bulls-Heat matchup last week), playing on the road is like having 20,000 people trying to swat down your shot with sonic insults. In a game of runs and momentum shifts, a team that tosses down a monster dunk and moves the home fans into a state of pandemonium can take over a game.
But is there such a thing as a home court disadvantage?—you know, where the fans arrive late and yawn during the action (assuming they show up at all). Such venues can make the opposing team feel like they're playing a low-energy scrimmage in their practice facility.
Here are the toughest, and easiest, places to play in this year's NBA Playoffs.
Tough: Oracle Arena (Golden State Warriors)
Capacity: 19,596 Average Regular Season Attendance: 19,373 (5th in the NBA) Why It's Tough: WHAT? I can't hear you. It's so loud in here.
The Golden State Warriors averaged more than 18,000 fans per game for the past eight seasons—one of only seven teams to reach that level. That's even more impressive because the Warriors finished with a winning record in only three of those seasons. Besides, loyal Warrior fans are rabid. They dress all in yellow for playoff games, turning "Roaracle" Arena into a pulsating orb of light. Golden State fans hit the spotlight in 2007, when Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson led the eighth-seeded Warriors to an upset victory over a top-ranked Dallas Mavericks squad before losing to the Utah Jazz in the next round (a series that provided us with this amazing moment). Now, any time Stephen Curry even looks like he's going to launch a 3-pointer, the entire arena jumps to its feet. After ending the regular season on a 32-game sellout streak, Oracle Arena wins the contest as the toughest place to play in the NBA.
Tough: Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Capacity: 18,203 Average Regular Season Attendance: 18,203 (12th in the NBA) Home Court Advantage: Crazy crashing waves.
Once Oklahomans got a taste of NBA basketball in 2005, when the New Orleans Hornets were forced to play home games there because of Hurricane Katrina, it was only a matter of time before pro hoops found a permanent home in the city. Although they profited at the expense of the City of Seattle, the citizens of Oklahoma City have embraced the Thunder like a cheerful grandmother who can't wait to see her grandson and exclaim, "my, how you've grown!" OKC has sold out every home game for two years in a row, amid a fan ocean of crashing blue and white waves. Seriously, the Thunder give out white and blue t-shirts to alternating sections during home playoff games, so it literally looks like an ocean of fans undulating violently around the court. Good luck trying to call out a pick to your teammate in the waning minutes of an OKC playoff game. In Chesapeake Arena, he'll never hear you.
Tough: Madison Square Garden (New York Knicks)
Capacity: 19,033 Average Regular Season Attendance: 19,033 (7th in the NBA) Home Court Advantage: Full house. Classic arena. East Coast attitude. Enough said.
Don't let the glitz of a New York Knicks playoff crowd fool you; this isn't L.A. Combine Spike Lee shrieking at you from his courtside seat with 19,000 frenzied city dwellers, and you've got an atmosphere that hasn't been felt since the days of John Starks and Patrick Ewing. The Knicks have steadily averaged more than 19,000 fans per game since the 2007-2008 season, even with a temporary scaling back of available seats this season. Even the celebrities who attend games are passionate (check out how intense Jason Sudeikis looks!). One thing is certain: You don't want to be the guy assigned to guard Carmelo Anthony as the clock winds down and the Garden crowd is on its feet.
Easy: Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indiana Pacers)
Capacity: 18,165 Average Regular Season Attendance: 15,269 (25th in the NBA) Home Court Advantage: Little to none
The "Malice in the Palace" put a damper on pro basketball in the Hoosier state, and nine years later the Pacers are still trying to figure out a way to put butts in the seats. In 2012, they had the fifth-best record the league, but the only team they outdrew was the New Jersey Nets, who were playing a lame-duck season at the dead Meadowlands arena. In a 2011 playoff series against the Bulls, it looked like nearly half of the Pacers' home crowds were clad in red, doing their best to turn Bankers Life Fieldhouse into the Madhouse on Madison. As of Feb. 20, the Pacers had registered just four sellouts this season, one of which was the home opener.
"It's very disappointing," guard George Hill told USA Today. "The fans show up when we play the marquee teams, but they show up wearing the marquee team's clothes."
The team sold out its first three playoff games this season, but with the New York Knicks soon headed into town, it will be prime time for Pacers fans to keep the NYC flavor out of their arena.
Easy: Phillips Arena (Atlanta Hawks)
Capacity: 18,729 Average 2012-2013 Regular Season Attendance: 15,125 (26th in the NBA) Home Court Advantage: Usually goes to the other team
When your star player, a guy who hails from your town, makes a statement like "it's a little difficult to play in Atlanta," that's a pretty clear sign that things aren't going well. Atlanta Hawks forward and ATL native son Josh Smith said this to the New York Daily News back in March. He was referring to the atrocious fan support the Hawks have received during his days there, even though the team has reached the playoffs during the past six seasons.
According to Forbes, Atlanta has the worst fan support in the country, which contributed to the Hawks operating at a whopping $19 million loss last season, the largest of any NBA team. This season the Hawks had several games where barely more than 10,000 fans showed up, and their pathetic attendance continued in the playoffs. After outdrawing only the Indiana Pacers in playoff attendance last season, the Hawks left nothing to chance this time around. The team took to LivingSocial to offer playoff tickets in certain sections for $16 per. Yes, Atlanta is a mixed bag of a city, with many residents transplanted from other places. But wherever native ATLiens are, they certainly are not in the unfriendly confines of Phillips Arena.
Easy: BMO Harris Bradley Center (Milwaukee Bucks)
Capacity: 19,000 Average Regular Season Attendance: 15,035 (26th in the NBA) Home Court Advantage: None
The Milwaukee Bucks have been in the bottom ten teams in terms of attendance each year for the past decade, and they narrowly avoided an all-time low this season with an attendance "surge" during the last 23 home games of the season. The Bucks couldn't even sell out their two home playoff games against the Miami Heat. Playing in the Bradley Center as an away team is akin to shooting around in your home gym, that's how dead the atmosphere can be at times. Guess that's why Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings feel like they can jack up 300 jumpers a game: No one is watching anyway!
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