Road to the Finals
In this piece I wanted to examine the importance of road record on post-season success. The main impetus for the article centered on trying to determine what team will arise from the pile of mediocrity that is the Eastern Conference.
Some folks seem to be pushing the Bulls as the Eastern Champs, which I don't think is unreasonable even without Gasol, I am just hesitant getting behind the Bulls as the East representative mainly because of their poor road record.
Currently the Bulls are 9-18 (.333) on the road, which is tied with Orlando for the worst record for an Eastern playoff contender. The Bulls have had Nocioni absent from the lineup lately, but even when he was healthy the Bulls were struggling on the road. And before Noce's injury the Bulls had been quite fortunate avoiding injuries involving their top 5 (Kirk, Lil Ben, Big Ben, Deng & Noce). The Bulls' remaining road schedule looks like an even split of 5-6 winnable games (Celts, Grizz, Sixers, Hawks) to 5-6 tough games (Cavs, Indy, Wiz, & Det., twice).
I looked at the road records for NBA Finals participants for the last 20 years ('87-'96), and below is a few pertinent highlights:
1) No team has ever won a title in the last 20 years with a losing road record.
2) No Western Conf. Champ has ever had a road record under .500; The '04-05 Spurs had the worst record at 21-20. This is not good news for the Lakers, who are currently 11-16 on the road. Although, they had some injuries this year, but then again the '04 Lakers had their own injury issues & still had a winning road record.
3) Only 2 teams have ever made the Finals in last 20 years with a road winning percentage under .400--the '99 Knicks (.320) & the '02-03 Nets (.390)
4) The '02-'03 Nets had the worst road record for any Finals participant in a regulation 82 game season, 16-25. The Sixers were the only East team that had a winning road record that year. As everyone bemoans the lackluster East this year, don't forget it was not much better in the early 2000s, if not worse. That Nets' team would have struggled to get out of the Western 1st round in '03.
5) The 7 East Conf Champs with losing road recs: '87 Celts (20-21); '88 Pistons (20-21); '95 Magic (18-23); '99 Knicks (8-17); '00 Indy (20-21); '02 Nets (19-22); '03 Nets (16-25)
6) The team with the worst road record to win a NBA title: tie--04-05 Spurs & 05-06 Heat (21-20).
In summary, right now the conference title hopes look shaky for a team with such a low road winning percent like the Bulls or the Lakers. Only the '99 Knicks had a worst road winning percentage then the Bulls currently possess, and '99 was a truncated season. And the Knicks were definitely aided by the Best-of-5 opening round setup, and not to mention a miracle bounce.
The Bulls really only have 2 road wins that are semi-impressive: They pounded a disinterested Heat team on opening night, and a recent win vs. the Suns without Nash, Diaw, & Kurt, still a decent win nonetheless. The Bulls do play the Cavs tonight & the Pistons on Sunday, so this could be a huge weekend on the road for the Bulls to prove themselves. The one positive the Bulls do have going for them--only the Pistons currently have a winning road record in the East. So maybe the Bulls can take advantage of a subpar East like the '02-'03 Nets team did. And if the Bulls get Gasol, then things definitely shift in their favor.