Statistical anomalies are as much a part of data as anything else. Just because something has a tiny chance of actually happening doesn’t mean it never happens; just ask anyone who’s ever won the lottery.
But a lottery is, ultimately, a large sample size. Hundreds of millions of people buy tickets, so something that has a hundreds-of-millions-to-one chance must happen eventually, sometimes after a dry spell that pumps the jackpot up over a billion dollars.
And indeed, when you hear that there were three winners splitting one of those billion-dollar jackpots, it’s little more than a small piece of statistical noise in the grand house-always-wins scheme of things.
Not so much the NBA, where there are only a handful of games, barely more than a couple thousand total for the entire league, in a season. So the Denver Nuggets being 9-0 on Friday and 13-21 on the other six days of the week? That’s just weird.
So let’s take a look at these nine games and see just how weird it is that the Nuggets win so often on one specific day of the week.
Is It the Home/Road Factor?
Of the nine Friday games, six have been at home; for the Nuggets to win six straight at home wouldn’t be terribly unusual if it were simply a six-game homestand.
Denver is 15-5 at home, so the chances of any three-to-one shot hitting six times in a row is small (729 to 1) but hardly unheard of.
Winning three straight on the road’s a bit of a different monster for a team that’s 7-16 away, but still, that’s just a 36-to-1 shot, nothing too unusual for a fringe playoff team.
So it helps that the team’s had six of nine at home and gotten a bit of road luck.
Is It the Opponents?
The Nuggets’ nine Friday opponents this season: @Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Memphis, @Orlando, New Orleans again, @Portland, Utah, Memphis.
Well, now we’re getting somewhere.
Sure, the Pelicans are 22-21 and sit sixth in the Western Conference playoff chase, half a game above Denver. But they’re just 11-11 on the road, and their home arena is at sea level. They go up a mile high, that’s a big advantage for the Nuggets.
Likewise, Portland is 10-10 at home and sits ninth in the West, and when Denver traveled to Moda Center to play them, they didn’t have Damian Lillard. Well, that tells us something right there, doesn’t it?
Both Memphis games were after the Grizzlies started to fall apart, not during their 7-4 start. Atlanta and Orlando are two of the worst teams in the league, Miami’s another sea level team that had to adjust to the altitude, and Utah didn’t have Rudy Gobert (and had an atrocious shooting night besides; they hit just 32.1 percent of their shots.)
So in every case so far on the schedule, Denver’s faced either a sea level team while having the home court, a team with a key star injured, or a team that’s just flat-out terrible.
So What About the Rest of the Season?
Denver hosts Phoenix this Friday, Jan. 19. They get a couple of Fridays off after that, but on Feb. 9, they travel to Houston on a Friday night. They also have Friday games in March at Washington and at Oklahoma City.
Their other three Friday games besides the ones just mentioned are home against the Lakers and Spurs and away in Memphis for the third Friday game between the teams in the same season (and I wonder how often that’s happened. Where’s ESPN Stats&Info when you need them?)
So What Have We Learned?
We’ve learned that a combination of quirks in the schedule, a little dumb luck, and home court advantage when you play in Denver will win you a lot of games, that’s what.
Every team gets relatively easy games on their schedule; not every NBA game is Warriors-Rockets or Celtics-Raptors. The Hawks and Grizzlies have to play someone for 82 games, and sometimes (OK, almost always) that someone is a team that’s better than they are.
But still, it’s weird. The Nuggets are 9-0 on Friday and 13-21 the other six days of the week. Go figure.