The Long Road To The Playoffs

November 7th, 2016 | by Thatcher Olson
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Jazz kicked off their first extended road trip of the season with a win over the New York Knicks, welcoming Gordon Hayward back from injury. They’ll face the Sixers, Hornets, Magic, and Heat on this road trip. While these are all very winnable games, an extended road trip is always a test for any team, especially when back-to-backs are involved.

We’ve all heard of the Jazz’s purported home-court advantage, due to some combination of crowd and altitude and other factors. But to become a playoff team, the Jazz will need to perform well outside of Utah, too. Today, we take a look at some of those questions, including why teams tend to struggle on the road, the Jazz’s historical road performance, and how they can be successful away from Vivint Smart Home Arena.

Why Do Teams Struggle on the Road?

While home-court advantage varies from team to team, it is very real. Last year, home teams won 59% of all games. This is still a very distinct advantage, though it has declined through the decades. In 1976, home teams won an amazing 68.5% of games! First of all, why exactly do teams perform worse on the road? While there may not be an exact answer, here are a few common explanations:

Back-to-Backs. Look at any team’s schedule. The majority of back-to-backs are on the road. The NBA tries to consolidate travel and road trips, which means more games in fewer nights while on the road. This means a tired road team, and a rested home team. *The Jazz have two back-to-backs on their first extended road trip. Last year teams played on average 17.8 (down from 19.3 in 2014), this year that number is down to 16.3.

Travel Fatigue. It’s natural that any team on the road would be at a disadvantage. Players aren’t in their own beds, they have a different routine, and their schedule may be different. Life on the road, including buses, planes, and taxis – can take a toll on players.

Partying? Sometimes, on a road trip in certain cities – let’s say New York, Miami or LA – teams come out flat and out of sync. You’ll hear the announcers remark that the players must have been up late partying. Now this isn’t proven to be an issue, but there are definitely certain players and teams that like to stay out later than others, which may have a negative impact on their play.

Opposing Fans. While a rare player like retired Lakers star Kobe Bryant may have thrived under the pressure of being the villain in opposing arenas, there’s a reason home crowds are often referred to as the “sixth man.” Having thousands of fans supporting you and bearing down on opponents and referees is a definite advantage to the home team.

How Have the Jazz Fared on the Road?

While the Jazz have certainly felt some of those benefits of being a home team, they have also struggled somewhat on the road in recent years.

Home Versus Road Record

Home Versus Road Record

In general, the Jazz have struggled on the road. The last time the Jazz had a winning record on the road was in 2009-10, with a 21-20 record, against a 32-9 record at home. In contrast, the Jazz have finished above .500 at home 6 of the last 7 years, while only finishing above .500 overall 3 of the last 7 years. It could be argued that the Jazz simply overperform their abilities at home, consistently being ranked as having one of the biggest home-court advantages in the NBA.

Improving On The Road

To fully achieve their potential and realize high expectations, the Jazz must become a better road team. How can they improve and get close to matching their performance at home?

Experience. To put it simply, this has been a young Jazz team for the past several years. They’ve struggled against more experienced squads, especially in an opposing arena. The Jazz added veteran experience, and the young guys aren’t so young anymore. They need to use that experience while on the road.

Finish games better. Last year the Jazz had a big problem closing out games, especially on the road. They’ve already showed a marked improvement in this area, closing out games against the Lakers, Spurs, and Knicks. The Jazz have to continue to grind out wins in opposing arenas that come down to the last few possessions.

Playoff Focus. This year isn’t about learning experiences as a team. It’s about making every game count. The best NBA players know what their goal is and how to achieve it. Team leaders like George Hill, Rudy Gobert, and Gordon Hayward have to step up and win big road games, leading by example.

As the Jazz attempt to make the 2017 playoffs, they’ll be looking to rack up more than just frequent flyer miles this year. They’re hoping that their season will include a marked improvement away from home.

Thatcher Olson

Thatcher Olson

Thatcher's passion for the Utah Jazz started in elementary school with his favorite purple Jazz t-shirt, and has only grown from there. When he's not watching or writing about the NBA, he enjoys running, travel, movies, and the great outdoors.
Thatcher Olson

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