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Home Court Advantage for the Heat in Game 7?

Home Court Advantage for the Miami Heat in Game 7?

There’s a huge game in the NBA tonight. Eastern Conference Finals. Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers. Game 7. Winner advances to the NBA Finals to meet the San Antonio Spurs. Loser goes home. It doesn’t get much bigger than this.

The question is, who has the advantage? Who should we expect to win the game?

If you listen to the prognosticators, the answer is the Miami Heat. They’re the home team in tonight’s game, and history seems to support the notion that the Heat will have some sort of advantage as a result. If you look at the numbers, in fact, it’s hard to argue that there’s a clear and distinct home court advantage in NBA Game 7’s. Here’s what one ESPN analyst said on the radio earlier today:

ESPN Analyst: “Over the course of the history of the NBA, the home team is 16-2 all time in Game 7’s. That bodes well for the Miami Heat’s chances in tonight’s game.”

Or does it?

Let’s evaluate that argument as if we were evaluating a GMAT Critical Reasoning argument prompt on the verbal section of the GMAT.

As we discuss in the video lesson on “GMAT Critical Reasoning – Part 1,” you want to start by clearly identifying the author’s conclusion. Based on the statement by the ESPN analyst above, what is his conclusion? What is he ultimately trying to say?

Conclusion: The home court (presumably the fans, familiar surroundings, etc.) causes the home team to win more often than not and thus Miami will win the game tonight.

Based on what evidence? The premise of the argument is the first sentence — the statistical data that theoretically backs up the author’s claim:

Premise: The home team, historically, is 16-2 in NBA Game 7’s.

The question now becomes, is that a valid argument? Does it make sense to draw the stated conclusion from the given premise? What might the author be assuming to draw his conclusion in this particular argument?

Ultimately, remember, most GMAT critical reasoning questions can be answered once you identify the author’s unstated assumption. Not all, but most. Remember also that if you’re able to identify the common argument pattern that the author is using (for a refresher, check out “GMAT Critical Reasoning – Part 2“), it makes it that much easier to identify the underlying assumption. In this case, the ESPN analyst is clearly making a Causal Argument. He’s saying, in effect, that “A causes B” — in this case that the home court advantage causes the home team to win.

What, then, is the author assuming to draw that conclusion?

Remember that one of the possible assumptions when you see a Causal Argument pattern is that something else isn’t causing the concluded outcome.

Assumption: Something else isn’t causing the observed outcome (in this argument, the home team winning a disproportionate number of Game 7’s).

We call that a confounding factor. Here the analyst is using the statistical evidence to draw the conclusion that the home court somehow causes the home team to win. But might there be some other explanation for why we see a 16-2 Win-Loss ratio in NBA Game 7’s? Could there be some other explanatory factor? What else might be going on to explain that track record?

Possible “confounding” explanatory factor: Among the numerous possible “other” explanations for why we see the home team winning Game 7’s so often, what if it’s because the home team happens to just be better? Think about why the home team has the home court advantage in the first place. Home court advantage in the NBA playoffs is determined by a team’s record in the regular season. The team with the best record gets the #1 seed in the playoffs and therefore has home court advantage throughout the playoffs, while the team with the worst regular season record heading into the playoffs gets the last seed and has to play on the road in the playoffs. So what does that tell you? Well, if regular season record is any indication, it tells you that the better team is the team with the home court advantage to begin with! They’ve earned it! We’d expect the team with the better regular season record (and therefore home court advantage in the playoffs) to beat a team with a worse record a majority of the time. So perhaps it’s not the home court itself that “causes” the home team to win most Game 7’s, but rather that they’re statistically the better team to begin with and should beat the lesser team a majority of the time anyway.

Questioning the “evidence” used by the pundits on sports talk TV and radio not only makes being a fan more interesting and intellectually stimulating, but it will also train you to think more critically in general which will translate to more right answers on GMAT critical reasoning questions and a higher GMAT verbal score.

So enjoy the game tonight and remember, don’t take everything the so-called experts say at face value. Your goal, after all, is not only to get pleasure from your sports-viewing experience, but also to dominate the GMAT!