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The Numbers Game: Do Warriors or Spurs Have Bigger Home-Court Advantage?

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 21, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 19:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs goes to the basket against the Golden State Warriors on March 19, 2016 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photos by Chris Covatta/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chris Covatta/Getty Images

Apparently, it's impossible to beat either of the NBA's two best teams on their home floors.

A squad has traveled to Oracle Arena 32 times in 2015-16, only to experience defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. On 35 separate occasions, the same has rung true for the San Antonio Spurs within the friendly walls of the AT&T Center.

Earning home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs has never felt more important.

These two teams are on a collision course that should require a lengthy series during the postseason's penultimate round. They're so much better than everyone else that an upset in the earlier stages would leave fans of nearly every squad feeling cheated. We have to see this clash of titans.

However, the Western Conference Finals might have a preordained result if the Warriors hold onto the No. 1 seed—a prize they currently possess by virtue of a four-game advantage with just 12 contests remaining. Especially after the Dubs trounced the Spurs by 30 points at home on Jan. 25, then San Antonio locked down Stephen Curry en route to an AT&T Center victory on March 19.

It's safe to assume whoever gets an extra game in front of a favorable crowd will advance to the NBA Finals.

Applying a historical lens should leave you just as impressed. 

Though the Warriors and Spurs could both do so this year, not a single team has ever completed an undefeated season at home, per NBA.com's Kevin Cottrell Jr. The 1985-86 Boston Celtics came closest, losing just one game in 41 attempts. However, that team ranked only No. 33 in home net rating, while this year's juggernauts are on pace to each earn top-five marks:

  1. 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, 18.8 net rating at home
  2. 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, 16.9
  3. 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers, 16.3
  4. 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs, 16.2
  5. 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, 15.8

Though the Warriors are shutting down opponents in front of their raucous crowds, they're also scoring an insane 117.3 points per 100 possessions—3.5 more than anyone else in the NBA. 

Meanwhile, San Antonio still has the league's No. 4 offensive rating at home, but it's also the toughest place for opponents to post gaudy figures. With a 98.5 defensive rating, the Spurs boast as much separation from the No. 2 Atlanta Hawks as the Hawks have from the No. 10 Utah Jazz. 

Looking at the Four Factors on each side of the floor shows how these two powerhouses are utilizing different approaches, even if both are working well: 

The Spurs do everything better on the defensive end.

Although the Warriors do rank No. 2 in opponents' effective field-goal percentage, no team contests shots more effectively than San Antonio. It also forces frequent turnovers, rarely commits fouls and is dominant on the defensive glass. 

It's the perfect defensive combination, and that's why my FATS model (based on historical comparisons and explained in full here) shows San Antonio is most similar to the 1991-92 Chicago Bulls squad that won 67 games and an NBA title. We're working with a model that has an artificial ceiling here, so don't be deterred by the fact an undefeated team is "only" getting a 67-win comparison. 

On the flip side, no one is even close to matching Golden State's league-best effective field-goal percentage—to the point that the Warriors basically break the model, which, as you can see below, can't come up with a valid comparison. And even though the Dubs can give up scoring runs to their foes, those happen because the team allows offensive rebounds and fails to force turnovers.

FATS has Golden State's top comparison as the 1973-74 Milwaukee Bucks, who went 59-23 before steamrolling through the Western Conference postseason and eventually losing Game 7 of the NBA Finals to the Boston Celtics. The weaker comparison is fitting because the Spurs have shown their home-court advantage is slightly stronger.

But that comes with an important caveat.

The accurate nature of Golden State's shooting in Oracle Arena has no peer throughout NBA history, while San Antonio's biggest aberration is its ability to avoid sending foes to the free-throw line. Historically, the former correlates more strongly with wins.

Plus, there's also a bit more room for across-the-board improvement in the Bay Area.  

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 16:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors stands on the court during the game against the New York Knicks on March 16, 2016 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Noah Graham/Getty Images

Curry and Co. have forced more turnovers on the road this season, and they've also been better at cleaning the defensive glass away from their home fans. If they improve those relative weaknesses in their own stomping grounds, there's potential to grow even more dominant. 

San Antonio doesn't have quite as much space to improve. Of the Four Factors on each side of the court, just their opponents' turnover percentage is worse at AT&T Center—14.0 overall and 13.9 at home. 

Both are playing so well that it is possible they each go undefeated.

But since the Warriors have more room to improve, can claim a significant head start in the race for No. 1 and already play fantastic basketball at Oracle, that's bad news for their challengers, dominant as they may be in front of their own fans. 

Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

All stats, unless otherwise indicated, are from Basketball-Reference.com or Adam's own databases and accurate through games played on March 20.

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