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Volume 72, Issue 136, Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Sports

Still no place like home? 

The Original

Eli Jabbe

When it comes to playoff matchups, there is always a term that is mentioned year in and year out: home-field advantage. The concept is talked about so much you would think it secures an automatic win for the team with the edge. But don't be fooled -- it's not as big an advantage as one would think.

While it might seem preposterous to some that home-field advantage doesn't carry the weight that it seems to, it's clear once any fan looks at the history books that any team without the advantage is more than capable of taking the crown in any sport. 

One has to look no further than the 1995 NBA playoffs. Our very own Houston Rockets were coming off of their championship season but struggled with a sub-par regular season record, landing them a sixth seed in the playoffs. However, the team was unfazed. 

Houston defeated third-seeded Utah, who boasted an impressive 60-22 regular season record, as well the 59-23 Phoenix Suns and the best-in-the-West 62-20 San Antonio Spurs, led by regular season MVP David Robinson. To top it off, the Rockets destroyed their Finals opponent the Orlando Magic in four games despite being the road team. 

This is just one example of how the only thing that matters is the teams that are playing on the floor, regardless of location. As former Rockets coach Rudy Tomjonavich so eloquently put it, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion."

Fans can turn to other sports to see more examples of how the aura of home-field advantage's implied invincibility has been shattered. A few years ago, the MLB playoffs were dominated by teams who had to play on the road. The 2002 Anaheim Angels won the American League wild card with a 99-win regular season and were pitted in the ultimate David and Goliath matchup when they faced the New York Yankees, which boasted a checkbook-fueled, American League-best 103 wins. But the Angels didn't care about the Yanks' home field advantage, eliminating them in four games in the division series and eventually winning it all. 

As history has shown, it's important for fans to realize it's not the size of the dog in the fight; it's the size of the fight in the dog. Sunday's Western Conference playoff action was another reminder of this. The Dallas Mavericks, who finished with the league's highest victory total (67) since the Chicago Bulls went 70-12 in 1995-96, faced the lowest-seeded team in the West, the Golden State Warriors. 

True, it was only one game, but the Warriors sent a message with a thorough 97-85 beating of the Mavs on the road, taking a 1-0 lead in the series. The Denver Nuggets, the sixth seed in the West, defeated the third-seed San Antonio Spurs 95-89 in San Antonio thanks to a great one-two punch of Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. 

The only Western Conference home team to win on Sunday? Second-seeded Phoenix, which barely escaped with a 95-87 win after trailing through three quarters to Kobe Bryant -- err, the Lakers.

So next time you hear analysts stressing the importance of home-field advantage, remember that anything goes.

Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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