|For NBA teams, no place like home in second round|
|Written by Admin|
|Sunday, 18 May 2008 22:14|
Or, he may find one more time that the odds clearly favor the house.
The hosts have been cleaning up in the second round of the playoffs, making it more home-court guarantee than home-court advantage. And Popovich's San Antonio Spurs are on the road for their most important game of the season, Game 7 against the New Orleans Hornets on Monday night.
Home teams are 22-2 in the conference semifinals, a .917 winning percentage. That easily tops the previous best, 18-4 marks (.818) in both 1990 and 1993, so Popovich hopes the visitors are due.
``I don't like that trend,'' he joked Saturday. ``I think maybe the percentages are going the other way. They can't keep going this way, so we're hoping the percentages change it all.''
Los Angeles, Boston and Detroit won all their home games and are through to the conference finals. The Hornets will join them if they can remain perfect this postseason at New Orleans Arena.
Hornets coach Byron Scott can't explain the home-court hex, he just hopes it lasts one more game.
``I don't know if that has to do with focus. For whatever reason the home team has played extremely well and the road team has, well, played (poorly) for whatever reason,'' he said. ``At least we have Game 7 at our place. It's a good feeling, for us we are happy that we have Game 7 in New Orleans.
``We have played extremely well there all playoff long and we feel really comfortable and confident and hopefully it'll be a good show on Monday.''
The Celtics eliminated the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 on Sunday, the second straight series in which they won all the games in Boston and lost each one on the road.
They can keep doing that and still win their 17th NBA championship, since their 66-16 record was best in the league and gave them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. However, no team has started this poorly on the road in the postseason and still won the title.
Boston couldn't find a way to win once in Atlanta, even though the Hawks were only 37-45 and never threatened to beat the Celtics on the road. The Celtics were no better against Cleveland, though they still had a chance to win Game 6 until a questionable offensive foul call on Paul Pierce trailing by five in the final minute.
Those are the kinds of calls teams expect to get at home but know might go against them on the road, believing referees can be affected - or even influenced - by a noisy home crowd.
The Spurs shot no free throws in the third quarter of Game 5, when the Hornets were 9-of-13 to break open the game in a 101-79 victory.
``When you're at home, you feel like you're going to get more of a better shot,'' Scott said. ``The disparity is not going to be very big in the calls, so you just feel like you've got a better chance.''
The Spurs looked and sounded completely confused after their blowout losses in New Orleans in Games 2 and 5. That's not surprising, even for a team with their championship experience.
``When you lose one or two, it becomes psychological,'' Pistons coach Flip Saunders said last week while waiting for their conference finals opponent. ``Winning on the road is a mind-set as much as anything. Whenever doubt creeps in that you might lose, that's when you struggle.''
Since the players and coaches are having trouble coming up with anything better, here's one obvious reason for the lopsided success: All the teams that reached the second round are tough to beat at home.
There were no upsets in the opening round, with the top four seeds in each conference advancing. All of those teams are strong in their own buildings, some practically unbeatable. Utah was 37-4 during the regular season, while Boston was 35-6, and Detroit and San Antonio were 34-7. The Lakers and Hornets each went 30-11.
If those teams are falling that infrequently in 41 games, why would they start losing in a span of seven games?
``The Western Conference this year is just truly unbelievable,'' Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. ``I know there's been a lot of talk about the home court record in the conference semifinals and the home teams having so much success. You're talking about the best teams in basketball facing each other.''
The Lakers notched one of the road wins, eliminating the Jazz in Game 6 on Friday. Detroit earned the other one, beating Orlando in Game 4 of that series.
The Spurs still believe they're going to join them Monday night. Then they'd have to win at least once in Los Angeles, and either Boston or Detroit to repeat as NBA champions.
San Antonio can't worry about that yet - not when the Spurs can't figure out why they've been so outclassed in New Orleans.
``No idea, especially with our team and over the years of winning championships, we always play good on the road and win big games on the road,'' guard Tony Parker said. ``That's what you want to have an opportunity and now we have another opportunity to win a game on the road. We have confidence because we have won big games on the road before.''
Just not lately.
AP Sports Writers Doug Alden in Salt Lake City, Larry Lage in Detroit, Brett Martel in New Orleans and Elizabeth White in San Antonio contributed to this report.