On The Road

On The Road

For 44 seasons, the Bucks have played better at home than on the road – every season.

And that holds true in 2012-13 so far. Barely.

In the team's most recent home game, the Bucks built an 18-point lead against the Rockets before falling. Now they are 9-8 at home. The good news, and rather odd news, is that at the same time they are a respectable 7-8 on the road.

Before diving into how and why the team is playing at roughly the same level both at home and on the road, let's take a moment to consider how much better the Bucks – and every other NBA team – typically plays at home compared to on the road.

Home Court History

The Bucks have never finished a season with a better road record than home record. And most of the time, it is not even close.
Consider some of the team's more extreme home/road splits:

  • 1976-77: 24-17 home / 6-35 road
  • 1987-88: 30-11 home / 12-29 road
  • 1990-91: 33-8 home / 15-26 road
  • 2004-05: 23-18 home / 7-34 road

Meanwhile, they have never compiled a road record within even two games of their home record in a single season. The closest ever was in 1993-94 when the team finished a franchise-worst 11-30 at home and 9-32 on the road. The next closest, coincidentally, was just last season (in a lockout-shortened season), when they went 17-16 at home and 14-19 on the road.

The team has posted a losing home record just six times in 44 seasons. They have posted a losing road record 32 times.

The point here is that the Bucks always play better home. And usually, much better. Just like every other team.

Home Court 2012-13

Now, not every team in NBA history has played better at home than on the road overall.

Last season, only the Nets (9-24 home, 13-20 road) finished with a better road than home record. This season, only the Bulls (9-8 home, 9-5 road) and Cavaliers (3-12 home, 5-15 road) have played better on the road. Coincidentally, the Bucks have beaten both the Bulls and Cavaliers on the road and have lost to them both at home.

In any event, playing better on the road is an extremely rare phenomenon.

Let the overall numbers paint the picture: So far this season, home teams (through Jan. 5) are 303-195. That means the home team has won 60.8 % of games, leaving road teams to win just 39.2 % of the time.

Bucks Breakdown

But the Bucks are an exception, having won 52.9 % of their home games and 46.6 % of their road games. So, they are significantly better than most teams are on the road and a fair bit worse than average at home.

Granted, they have played a slightly easier road schedule than home schedule so far, which might begin to help explain their home/road split. But the difference isn't so massive: Road opponents have a combined .465 winning percentage, while home opponents boast a combined .517 winning percentage.  

The Bucks have played a number of teams already both at home and on the road, and some of the results have been rather surprising.

Opening Night provided a hint of what was to come when the Bucks marched into Boston and throttled the Celtics 99-88. It was a forceful, surprising, dominant victory. Just over a week later, the Celtics visited Milwaukee and returned the favor, beating the Bucks 96-92 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Since then, the team has similarly defeated the Bulls on the road while losing to them at home. And they have also lost to the Cavaliers at home after beating them on the road. This is usually not how it works.

On the other hand, the Bucks have won home games and lost road games to the Bobcats, Hornets, and Heat.

January Road Ahead

The Bucks close January with seven road games and five home games. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? If the season so far is any indication, it strangely enough might not mean too much of anything.

The team starts off at home against the Suns on Tuesday. The Suns are one of those teams that play much, much better at home – they are 10-8 at home and 2-14 on the road. They get a home rematch against the Pistons – a team they lost to on the road. The Sixers, fellow playoff contenders whom the Bucks beat on the road earlier this season, also visit Milwaukee. The Warriors, one of the NBA's pleasant surprises, bring one of the league's top road records (11-7) into town, and the team finishes January at home against the Bulls.

On the road, the Bucks start against the Bulls, where they were last seen coming back from 27 down for a shocking win. They hit the road for a four-game road trip from Jan. 15-19 against the Raptors, Lakers, Suns, and Blazers. Maybe this is the year they finally win in Phoenix, for the first time since 1987? They also visit Detroit and Cleveland, a couple of teams at the bottom of the Central Division who have given the Bucks problems already this season.

Winning about half of the time on the road (7-8) is the mark of a playoff team. Winning about half of the time at home (9-8) is not.

If the Bucks make the playoffs, they will likely do so without home court advantage. But they might at least have a slight road court advantage.