SALT LAKE CITY — There were times during Utah's historic season that coach Quin Snyder would pause — maybe after a big play or a big win — to notice the mostly empty Vivint Arena and think, "Man, it'd be great to have people in the stands."
To be fair, the Jazz did have some fans in the stands for the entirety of the season, but when you are used to a raucous crowd of 18,000-plus, a few thousand feels pretty empty — no matter how much crowd noise was pumped into the arena (and, sadly, there was a lot).
For Snyder, it was hard not to think of times before: times of cacophonous roars and thunderous gasps; times of joyful faces and celebratory embraces. Next weekend, those times could be back.
With 13,000 fans being allowed into Vivint Arena for the playoffs, it should feel much closer to what Snyder and the Jazz remember.
"You're picturing and remembering our fans in Vivint and their support, enthusiasm and those things drive you," Snyder said. "That's been one thing that's coming to my mind a few times this year like, 'Hey, gosh, it'd be great because you could share it and everybody gets to share in this.' So to the extent that's going to be the case in the playoffs, it's great that we have that opportunity."
By virtue of having the league's best record, the Jazz will begin each playoff series at home. That should feel a bit strange to most of the players. In the last 20 years, Utah has had homecourt advantage just one time — a second round matchup in 2007 against the Golden State Warriors who had upset the No. 1-seeded Dallas Mavericks. Utah hasn't had homecourt advantage in the first round since 2001.
"It's an advantage," said Mike Conley, who was on two Memphis Grizzlies squads that enjoyed homecourt advantage in the first round (they 1-1 in those series). "I think that's a reason why teams work so hard to try to get in those top four slots is because when you're at home, you're just in a better zone, you're in a better state mentally, you have a better routine."
And for the Jazz, a better success rate. Utah's run to the top of the standings was helped heavily by its dominance at home. The Jazz finished 31-5 at home this season — four games better than the West's next best home record. Utah's 21-15 road record was tied for fourth in the conference.
Maybe it was the lack of crowds or COVID restrictions eliminating what some would label road distractions or something else, but it was harder to win at home this NBA season than any other before it.
Home teams ended with a 587-493 record — that 54.4% home winning percentage was the worst in league history. The previous leaguewide low for home winning percentage, however, was 55.1%, and that was set last season. So this much is clear: It's getting easier to win on the road.
But since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams, only the 1995 Rockets have won three or more series without homecourt and won a title. That stat likely speaks more to the fact the NBA has less playoff upsets than the other major American sports league more than anything.
Still, it's not a bad thing to be playing in your home arena more often than not, especially for a team that has long been known as a tough out at home.
"I think it's going to be huge for us," Rudy Gobert said. "It's going to be a big lift, a big advantage and it's gonna be fun. I can't wait to get started and I think we are excited about it. 8,000 are already getting louder a bit, but 13,000 should be a pretty cool playoff atmosphere."
While Utah's famed home crowd decibel levels still live on in reputation, Snyder's playoff teams haven't had great success at Vivint. The Jazz went 1-4 at home during the 2017 playoffs (and still somehow beat the Clippers in the first round), and are 5-7 overall at Vivint during Snyder's postseason run. Outside of that strange Clippers series — home teams won just two games in the seven-gamer — that's mostly been due to the teams the Jazz have had to play: A championship Warriors squad and a championship-level Rockets team.
The Jazz aren't the betting favorites entering the playoffs, but they aren't heavy underdogs to anyone, either. In a close series, getting more games at home might just be enough to swing it Utah's way.
"It's great that we have that opportunity but I think all of our fans would also agree that we want to win, no matter where we're playing," Snyder said.