R.J. Barrett: Fan-less Madison Square Garden probably gives Knicks advantage

Knicks guard R.J. Barrett at Madison Square Arena
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

LeBron James has frequently talked about how much he enjoys playing in Madison Square Garden. Kobe Bryant even said he wanted to play for the Knicks because of Madison Square Garden. Many opposing players get up for playing in New York’s fabled arena.

But Madison Square Arena doesn’t have the same vibe this year with no fans in attendance.

Knicks guard R.J. Barrett, via Ian Begley of SNY:

“Actually having no fans might be an advantage. I know if I was a competitor coming into the Garden with all those fans, I’d want to have a great game,” Barrett said hours before the Knicks’ home opener against Philadelphia. “So coming in there with no fans actually probably gives us an advantage that way too. It’s just you have to go out there and play basketball.”

Between the 1999-00 and 2019-20 seasons, the Knicks won 32% of their road games and nearly 50% of their home games. Though slightly below, that’s pretty close to the home winning percentage expected by a team with that road winning percentage:

Road teams usually lose for numerous reasons. Travel is fatiguing. Referees tend to favor home teams. Fans boost the home team.

Maybe the Knicks’ (normal-looking) home success relative to road success is based solely on opponents’ travel burden. Perhaps, the Knicks will fare even better at home without fans. Though many of those fans are rooting for New York, there can be something different about getting hyped for just a few games at Madison Square Garden rather than 41 of them.

But this mostly just sounds like overthinking it.