The Golden State Warriors have been a fixture in the NBA Finals for four years straight and if the various oddsmakers and prognosticators around the globe are to be believed a fifth appearance is on the horizon. FiveThirtyEight, Caesars Palace, the Westgate SuperBook, 5Dimes and many others all see Golden State as the prohibitive favorite to represent the Western conference in the NBA Finals with little stopping them from a third straight title, their fourth in five years.
Yet this time, Coach Steve Kerr and his squad are coming to the playoffs in less intimidating fashion than in years past. For example, they suffered eight 20-point losses in 2018-19, almost as many as the last four seasons combined (11). They had no such losses during the 2017-18 season. Plus, according to Nick Friedell of ESPN, no NBA champion has suffered more than six during a title run.
To be fair, the Warriors have made no secret they value long-term health more than regular-season success but while a 57-25 record gets them home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs it does not insure them four home games at Oracle Arena if they were to face either the Milwaukee Bucks (60-22) or Toronto Raptors (58-24) in the 2019 NBA Finals. And that is pretty much the only factor that should keep the Warriors from another trophy.
Since Kerr took over in 2014-15 the Warriors are 173-32 at home during the regular season (.844 win rate) and 39-6 during the playoffs (.867). The rest of the NBA has win rates of .576 and .601, respectively. As you can see, home-court advantage has been very good to Golden State and the lack thereof would reduce their chances of winning a seven-game series against either the Bucks or Raptors.
According to the web site WhoWins, when the team with home-court advantage loses the first game of the series they still have close to a 50/50 chance at winning the title. After taking into account a team’s actual win-loss record; its expected win-loss record based on points scored and allowed, also known as its Pythagorean winning percentage; and their regressed win-loss record to account for a small sample size of only 82 games played, the Bucks are also better than the Warriors — at least on paper. We would expect this iteration of the Bucks to win a seven-game series against the 2018-19 Warriors 63 percent of the time.
Sound high? It shouldn’t. Research from Fivethirtyeight’s Neil Paine found home-court boosted an NBA team’s chances of winning by 10 percentage points during the regular season and as high as 14 percentage points during the playoffs. Plus, the Bucks finished the season outscoring opponents by a league-high 8.6 net points per 100 possessions behind the third-best offense and second-best defense. They have the MVP front-runner in Giannis Antetokounmpo, a Coach of the Year candidate in Mike Budenholzer and are capable of keeping up with the Warriors three-point barrage.
Toronto would be a 51 percent favorite over Golden State in a seven-game series. In other words, the ability to play four games at Scotiabank Arena helps makes up for a perceived lack of talent on Toronto’s roster in comparison to Golden State’s super team. And remember, those numbers are perhaps low after the Raptors played 22 games without their best player, Kawhi Leonard, this season. When he was in the lineup Toronto outscored opponents by 7.8 net points per 100 possessions. That dropped to a net rating of 3.2 points when he was on the bench or in street clothes, roughly the difference between how the Bucks (plus-8.6 net rating, 60 wins) and Oklahoma City Thunder (plus-3.4 net rating, 49 wins) fared this season.
The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are having fine seasons, but without home-court advantage to tilt the odds in their favor, neither would have a significant chance to defeat the Warriors in a potential NBA Finals matchup. The Celtics would be estimated to win that series just 29 percent of the time with the 76ers just a tick worse at 28 percent.
And if you are looking for the Denver Nuggets or Houston Rockets to knock of the Warriors before then, don’t. They would each have a 36 percent chance to defeat Golden State in a seven-game series.