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Fantasy Friday: The Mile High Effect

Tonight, the Clippers travel to Denver to take on the Nuggets. Does Lob City still fly when it plays so high?

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Let's start with this: the Nuggets suck. They don't suck at a historic level like, say, the Lakers and 76ers. But, they suck.

Entering tonight's game against the Clippers, the Nuggets sit 21st in defensive efficiency, allowing 105.4 points per 100 possessions. Offensively, they're 18th. Perhaps in the East they could make the playoffs -- I think the University of Kentucky could, too -- but in the West, they suck.

They've improved since some early ugly losses, but they've been among a handful of teams I've eyed as generous matchups when setting my fantasy lineups, because not only do they struggle defensively, but they play at the league's 4th fastest pace. Against the Nuggets, you get quality and quantity.

But, the Denver-based club has possibly the league's most pronounced home court advantage, where the altitude drains opposing players already fighting the deleterious effects of travel. So I started thinking -- a dangerous proposition -- that I reconsider the Nuggets as an inviting matchup at home.

A (brief) investigation:

Look at some Nuggets team stats. This season, the Nuggets' net efficiency (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) is +3.8 at home, but -8.4 on the road. Last season, it was +0.8 at home and -5.1 on the road. They don't actually suck at home, but this doesn't tell us that much about their home court advantage because we expect teams to be worse on the road.

How much worse? The other 29 teams are averaging +3.31 at home and -1.25 on the road so far this year. Last year it was+2.68 at home and -2.46 on the road. OK, so with small sample sizes in mind, the Nuggets do appear to have a larger home/road split than other teams. No surprise, since that's the premise of this article.

Has it affected opposing player's stats? I'm not going to compile every NBA player's Denver splits, so let's just look at a couple of key Clippers. I chose Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan because they've both been Clippers for at least the past four years, and they've been durable enough to play in a lot of games, which gave me a less small sample. I didn't choose Chris Paul because his assist numbers tend to be inflated by the home arena scorer anyway, which could have tainted the results.

The Clippers have played two games in Denver in each of the past four seasons. Blake Griffin has averaged 35.75/20.4/9.5 (minutes/points/rebounds) over those eight games. In seven home games against the Nuggets over the same period, Blake's averaged 34/20.86/9.57. For all intents and purposes, those numbers are identical. His career numbers? 35.5/21.5/10. Those are close too.

DeAndre Jordan has averaged 26.4/7.88/8.25 in the eight Denver road games and 25.5/8.85/12 in the seven home games. Those numbers look significantly different, but are skewed by what appear to be two very poor performances in Denver in 2010-2011. Most tellingly, his minutes played are essentially the same, even a bit higher in Denver, which is the stat I thought I would see affected the most.

The result of all these machinations is that small sample sizes concerning individual matchup data aren't really to be trusted. That's not worthy of breaking news, but it's important to remember.

It's more helpful to know that the Nuggets benefit from a greater home court advantage than other teams. They are definitively better at home, but they still rank just 16th in defensive efficiency when compared to other 29 teams in their respective homes. Also, the ultimate effect of this advantage is small. They average just one fewer possession per 48 minutes and allow essentially one fewer basket when playing in Denver.

The real lesson? For fantasy purposes, the Mile High City is just mildly less comfortable than other road cities. Pick your Clippers with confidence. The altitude changes a lot of things, but it can't help one: the Nuggets still suck.

As always, head over to FanDuel to register and play their NBA fantasy games.

Disclaimer: Even though this is a sponsored post with affiliate links, all of the opinions in this post are my own. And as an FYI, FanDuel gave me some cash to play its daily fantasy games.