• Gerald Malunga

Lack of “home court” gives level playing field

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen extreme social distancing and health measures being put in place, this has robbed game day fans of turning up in large numbers to rally for their teams in the final stretch of the regular season and the ever competitive post-season period. The thunderous applause, groans, moans and the iconic "defense" chants often played a great role in helping unsettle opponents while pumping up the home teams.

With NBA teams now situated in a controlled ‘bio bubble‘ in Orlando, Florida a lot of teams will not be able to bank on home court advantage and support as was the norm in previous years. Teams usually took turns hosting their opponents with higher seeded teams enjoying home court advantage in playoff matchups. With the highest seeded team facing the eighth ranked team very few people would bet against the team with the best record in the league steam-rolling past the eighth seed (who are often considered the weakest in the playoffs according to regular season form).

The current setup sees all teams play in a neutral venue and this has somewhat given a sense of parity or a level playing field as the form book or the odds go out the window, many teams have already gone against the script in the first few games of the season to record shock results in Game 1. A case in point is the eighth seeded Portland Trail Blazers who beat title favourites and top seeded Los Angeles Lakers in a highly competitive encounter on Tuesday in Game 1 of the First Round.

A lot of pre-match talk was set around how the Lakers would be starting their journey to the Conference Finals, the Blazers were respectfully mentioned as a formidable force given the form of Damian Lillard but their praise was more centred around the Lakers being urged to avoid complacency rather than the Blazers being given a chance to win Game 1.

Another team which took advantage of a top seeded team not having home court advantage is the Orlando Magic who shocked the world by comprehensively beating the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks went into the game as the team with the best record in the league led by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, they were expected to prove themselves as a serious title contender early on but they were outplayed by the Nikola Vucevic led Magic.

The Bucks had the best home record in the league (30-5) in the regular season and they would have loved to have the comfort of the Fiserv Forum Arena in the playoffs but they have been on an indifferent spell in the Orlando bubble in recent weeks and that has spilled over to their playoff form in the first game.

With no home court the Bucks have been a shadow of themselves as compared to their previously consistent form. The Bucks are currently 3-6 in Orlando and their dip in form will give their opponents encouragement if they do not address their recent slide. The 2020 NBA Playoffs have presented a level playing field and the entertainment value will be high given the fact that neutral venues can see games going either way.

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