The Pistons are on the verge of clinching home court advantage throughout the playoffs. As I’ve said all year long, the Pistons probably have a 1 in 4 chance of winning the NBA Championship if they have to play game 7 on the road in the NBA Finals. My guess is that those chances jump to 3 in 4 with home court advantage. To some extent, home court in the NBA Playoffs matters for every team. However, home court in the NBA Finals is much more important than home court in the first or second round. The reason for this is that San Antonio and Dallas are just too good at home. Last year’s NBA Finals proved just how difficult it is to beat San Antonio when it has home court advantage. The Spurs didn’t even play particularly well. The Pistons struggled to get into a rhythm while in San Antonio. The tide turned as soon as the series moved back to Detroit. Games 3-5 were dominated by the Pistons (with the exception of the last few minutes of game 5). The Pistons had more energy. They were crisper on offense. Elite teams play at an elite level when they are at home. That makes it doubly tough to win a series without home court advantage against elite teams.
Amazingly, this will be the first time these Pistons will have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Pistons had to win on the road against Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals and on the road against LA in the NBA Finals in 2004. Last year, the Pistons had to win on the road against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals and then play on the road against San Antonio in the NBA Finals. It’s a testament to the Pistons’ ability that they were able to win three of those series and very narrowly lost the fourth. For the first time since the Bad Boys era, Pistons fans will be able to enjoy the luxury of knowing that the Pistons will have all of the bonuses of having home court advantage throughout the playoffs. We no longer have to worry about how Detroit can possibly win game 7 in Miami or how the Pistons will manage to win game 6 AND 7 in San Antonio.
Coming into this season, the goal was to finish with the best record in the NBA. While the gap between the East and the West has mostly disappeared, the East is still the weaker conference. The Pistons haven’t been able to take advantage of the East’s mediocrity in the last two years. It seemed that it was more a result of their nonchalant attitude rather than the inability to get the job done. The Pistons have occasionally coasted as boredom set in. This is a team that thrives on competition and “clutch” situations. Playing at Atlanta in December is hardly “clutch” time. As a result, the Pistons sleep walked through games resulting in embarrassing losses. Whereas the Pistons shrugged it off as a meaningless regular season game, these were the losses that ultimately kept the Pistons from securing home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Once again, the Pistons were afforded an easy schedule featuring an excess of Eastern Conference lightweights. The Sagarin Ratings shows the Pistons having the second easiest schedule in the NBA this season. Unfortunately for Pistons fans, the Pistons only decided to take advantage of their annual easy schedule this season. One can only imagine how different the NBA Finals would’ve been last year if the Pistons had home court advantage. The Pistons essentially lost last year’s Championship in the regular season.
With a regained desire to become NBA Champions once again and the new offensive efficiency that has resulted from the hiring of Flip Saunders, the Pistons have finally taken the regular season seriously. With essentially the same team as last year, the Pistons have moved from an average point differential of +3.9 in 2005 to +7.3 this season. It is obvious that the Pistons put increased attention on the regular season. Despite San Antonio and Dallas being elite-level teams, the Pistons will have their easiest road to the title yet. Throw in the fact that Tim Duncan is not anywhere near 100% and things look even better. To win the NBA Championship last season, the Pistons had to win two games in a row in San Antonio. Considering the Spurs were 38-3 at home in the regular season and the Pistons hadn’t won in San Antonio in close to a decade, the chances were slim. The Pistons came within five minutes of doing the impossible. Should the Pistons reach the Finals this year; games 6 and 7 will be in Detroit. That sounds pretty good to me.