Home Cooking: Fouls and Home Court in the NBA

After watching Game 3 of the NBA Finals, I could not help but feel that the Miami Heat seem to receive a lot of home cooking when it comes to fouls.  I recalled that in games played in Miami  during the Eastern Conference Finals that there were several no-calls or instances where a Boston player would be bulldozed by LeBron James during a block…but a foul was not called.

During Game 3, the primary situation that many have pointed to was the push off and shoulder block by James on Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden that occurred near midcourt late in the game.  A foul was called on Harden despite the push off from Mr. “I don’t need an advantage.”  Some even noted that it was a reflection of James’s megastar status.

While watching that game, I came to two conclusions about how I felt about watching the Miami Heat.  First, I feel like James will score every time he touches the ball.  Even though that is not true (though he does shoot close to 50 percent for his career [48.3]), whenever the Thunder missed a shot and the Heat came down court, if LeBron had the ball, then I had a feeling that he would score.  I feel that way about two other players — Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant.

Second, if the Heat are in Miami, then LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are going to get away with more and have more fouls drawn from other players.

However, upon further review, that is not necessarily true.  Though fouls drawn is not an easy stat to obtain (and I am too lazy to put the database together), past research on this does tend to place James and Wade high on such a list (Weak Side Awareness has painstakingly compile such a list for the 2010-11 season, as well as previous seasons.  Another website also breaks this down, though for the 2006-07 season…the pattern is still the same).  However, there is no breakdown for home versus road.

Nevertheless, if one looks at personal fouls committed by the two Heat players, we see that while Wade does commit more on the road this season, James actually commits slightly more at home (1.6 at home versus 1.5 on the road).

Despite this, just because Wade and James may not be committing a lot of fouls does not mean that teams that play in Miami do not get mistreated.  We all hold that there is some homecooking when it comes to officiating.  Indeed, authors Tobias Moskowski and L. Jon Wortheim do a great job digging deep into this phenomenon in their book Scorecasting.

So, I decided to look at see not only the difference between home fouls versus road fouls for various teams, but also which venues tend to have more fouls called on opponents.  Do we see a trend that Miami is a foul party for visiting teams?

First, if we look simply at average fouls committed on the road versus those committed at home, the greatest differential is actually the Milwaukee Bucks (20.8 on the road versus 17.8 at home), followed by the Utah Jazz and then the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and rounding out the top five is Sacramento.  There are teams with a negative differential (Charlotte, Indiana, New York, San Antonio, and Washington).

Fouls Committed

TEAM ROAD HOME DIFF
ATL

17.8788

17.8182

0.06061

BOS

20.8788

18.9697

1.90909

CHA

18.3636

19.4848

-1.1212

CHI

17.3939

17.1212

0.27273

CLE

20.8485

19.0606

1.78788

DAL

18.8788

18.2727

0.60606

DEN

19.7576

19.5455

0.21212

DET

19.7879

19.3939

0.39394

GSW

21.6061

21.1212

0.48485

HOU

21.0303

19.7879

1.24242

IND

21.3939

21.9394

-0.5455

LAC

21.3636

21.0303

0.33333

LAL

16.9091

16.697

0.21212

MEM

20.4242

19.4545

0.9697

MIA

20.3939

18.4545

1.93939

MIL

20.7879

17.7879

3

MIN

19.0303

17.697

1.33333

NJN

19.9394

18.4848

1.45455

NOH

20.6364

19.4848

1.15152

NYK

21.0303

21.1212

-0.0909

OKC

21.1212

19.8485

1.27273

SAS

16.8182

17.8182

-1

ORL

18.1818

17.2121

0.9697

PHI

18.3636

16.697

1.66667

PHO

19.5758

17.7879

1.78788

POR

19.0606

18.8485

0.21212

SAC

20.4242

18.5758

1.84848

TOR

23.8485

22.5758

1.27273

UTA

23.0303

20.6364

2.39394

WAS

21.1515

21.4242

-0.2727

However, this does not tell the entire story.  What about when teams play at a particular venue?  While the Toronto Raptors might commit the most fouls on the road (coincidentally, they also commit the most at home), this does not tell us where they tend to commit more fouls.  So, I organized fouls committed by venue.

If your favorite team is playing the New York Knicks, expect fouls as Madison Square Garden patrons witness the most fouls by opponents (average 22.67 fouls per game).  MSG is followed by the Staples Center (but only when the Los Angeles Clippers are playing), the Pepsi Center in Denver, Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, and EnergySolutions Center in Salt Lake City.  American Airlines Arena — home to the Miami Heat — is eighth.  The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia has the lowest number of fouls by an opponent (16.5 fouls per game by opponent).

Now, using those numbers, we can determine the difference between fouls committed by opponents relative to the home team.  Number one of that list is the Los Angeles Lakers, with an average difference of 4.1 fouls [It should be noted that the Lakers commit the fewest fouls per game in the NBA].  The second greatest home foul differential belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves, followed by the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, and the Miami Heat (2.5 fouls).  Not surprisingly, the team with the worst differential is Toronto, which leads the Association in fouls per game.

FOULS

Team

Home

Opp.

Diff.

ATL

17.818

20.182

2.3636

BOS

18.97

18.03

-0.9394

CHA

19.485

21.576

2.0909

CHI

17.121

17.939

0.8182

CLE

19.061

20.848

1.7879

DAL

18.273

19.455

1.1818

DEN

19.545

22.424

2.8788

DET

19.394

19.97

0.5758

GSW

21.121

16.939

-4.1818

HOU

19.788

18.545

-1.2424

IND

21.939

22.273

0.3333

LAC

21.03

22.515

1.4848

LAL

16.697

20.788

4.0909

MEM

19.455

20.606

1.1515

MIA

18.455

20.97

2.5152

MIL

17.788

19.152

1.3636

MIN

17.697

21.636

3.9394

NJN

18.485

19.242

0.7576

NOH

19.485

18.485

-1

NYK

21.121

22.667

1.5455

OKC

19.848

19.848

0

SAS

17.818

19.818

2

ORL

17.212

20.182

2.9697

PHI

16.697

16.485

-0.2121

PHO

17.788

19.424

1.6364

POR

18.848

20.515

1.6667

SAC

18.576

20.727

2.1515

TOR

22.576

17.818

-4.7576

UTA

20.636

21.697

1.0606

WAS

21.424

19.152

-2.2727

Of course, this leads to discussion about free throws.  To simplify this, I want to look just at free throws by the home team versus road team free throws at that venue.  First, the team with the highest average of home free throws attempted is the Jazz (27.2), followed by the Nuggets, Pacers, Knicks, and Thunder [Miami is seventh].

The venue with the fewest free throws attempted by opponent is at the Staples Center, but when the Lakers play there.  This is followed by the Amway Center (Magic), United Center (Chicago Bulls), Target Center (T’wolves), and the US Airways Center (Phoenix Suns).  For the record, Miami is eighth here.

Now, by comparing the differential, we can see if a team has a scoring advantage via fouls.   Number one is Los Angeles Lakers (7.96 difference in free throws), followed by the Nuggets (6.5), the Timberwolves (5.2), the Kings (4.8), and the Heat (4.5).  Nine teams have a negative differential, mostly teams with losing records with the exception of the Celtics (-1.8) and the 76ers (-2.1).

Team

HOME

OPP

Diff

ATL

23.0303

20.6364

2.39394

BOS

19.3333

21.0909

-1.7576

CHA

24.3939

23.7576

0.63636

CHI

22.0606

19.4545

2.60606

CLE

23.9394

20.7576

3.18182

DAL

21.9394

21.3333

0.60606

DEN

27.0606

20.5455

6.51515

DET

23.0909

22.8788

0.21212

GSW

18.8182

26.8788

-8.0606

HOU

20.4848

21.4242

-0.9394

IND

26.6667

25.0606

1.60606

LAC

24.697

25.7576

-1.0606

LAL

24.6667

16.697

7.9697

MEM

25.2727

22.5455

2.72727

MIA

24.9697

20.4242

4.54545

MIL

20.3636

21.6061

-1.2424

MIN

24.8485

19.6364

5.21212

NJN

22

21.6061

0.39394

NOH

20.6061

21.6061

-1

NYK

26.0606

24.4848

1.57576

OKC

26

22.9091

3.09091

SAS

22.7576

19.7576

3

ORL

22.7273

19.1515

3.57576

PHI

17.9091

20.0303

-2.1212

PHO

21.4545

19.6667

1.78788

POR

22.6364

21.4848

1.15152

SAC

24.5455

19.697

4.84848

TOR

21.4242

26.5152

-5.0909

UTA

27.2424

23.0606

4.18182

WAS

21.3333

24.8485

-3.5152

These numbers, of course, affect scoring chances.  For example, the Lakers receive 263 more free throw attempts at home compared to their visiting opponents.  For Miami, the Heat receive 150 more attempts.

What does all of this represent?  Well, there is a noticeable discrepancy between fouls called against the Heat compared to Heat opponents in Miami, they are not the top beneficiary.  The Heat in general do not produce a lot of fouls (middle of the pack overall), which one could argue comes from the privilege of having star players, but it is not a reflection of an enormous home court bias.

Given that teams with losing records also populate the top team in terms of home foul differential (e.g. the Kings, Bobcats, and Timberwolves), it may come down to something more than home court, or even “good” or popular teams.  Remember, the top site for opposing team fouls is MSG, a mediocre team; but the Knicks are also one of the top five teams in terms of fouls committed at home.

Therefore, foul discrepancy is likely more of a reflection of style of play.  Teams that attack the basket more might be able to draw more fouls, while defensively aggressive teams may commit more fouls.

So, maybe I can lay off the Heat for a bit.  Though, I still am not going to watch a game played in Miami.

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