Rust vs. Rest in the NBA Finals: What Do Players and Numbers Say?
Getty Images/Matt Roembke of Action Network. Pictured (L-R): Aaron Gordon, Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Jimmy Butler of the Miami Heat.
The Denver Nuggets have been chilling.
After sweeping the mighty (No. 7 seed) Los Angeles Lakers on May 22, the Nuggets earned both their first trip to the Finals and also a full 10 days off before Game 1.
They've gotten rest, recovered from the sickness that went through the team during the Lakers series, and worked on their conditioning.
So now, with the Finals starting Thursday, we see a familiar narrative.
It's rest vs. rust time!
The Player Perspective
The Nuggets were predictably pretty "meh" about the entire concept.
Nikola Jokic simply said, "we'll see, I don't know," when asked about it Wednesday.
"I don't think anyone on our team has even thought about it," Jeff Green said Tuesday.
The other Nuggets, however, have cited the intensity and focus of practices this week. Michael Malone said conditioning was a big part of the team's approach this week. That makes sense for a team with so much time off.
Internally, Denver hasn't considered the layoff a bad thing. The Nuggets were dealing with a virus that tore through the team between the Suns and Lakers series (even as they swept LA). Jamal Murray's illness actually turned into an ear infection. So, having time to both recover and ramp up is key.
Denver needs to run in this series. The Nuggets have been an elite transition team this season, and they also need to be able to get back because Miami has been the second-best transition team in the playoffs.
But while some older teams would have likely laid off much of anything, Denver has been fairly focused on putting in the work to get these last four wins for the franchise's first title.
When I started doing the research on this, I just had to laugh. Because when you dive into the rest vs. rust question, it turns out not to be much of a thing at all.
Let's start here. All data is courtesy of KillerSports.com, and since 2003:
Teams with more rest than their opponent are 94-66 (59%) straight up and 81-77-2 (51.3%) ATS in the playoffs. If you look at home teams with more rest, it goes to 71-26 straight up (73%) and 44-42 (57%) ATS. Do you know why? Because it's a rested team that is also better than its opponent, hence the home-court advantage.
Now, those numbers are better than the overall numbers for home favorites. Home favorites in the Finals are 64-32 SU (67%) and 51-41-4 (55%). Home favorites with more rest are 7-2 SU and ATS (78%). Road dogs in the Finals are 33% SU and 45% ATS. Rested road dogs are 1-10 (9%) straight up and 2-9 ATS (18%).
So it's rest when you're the better team at home, and rust on the road. But all of that is just a team with more rest. What if they have a long layover?
Teams in the conference finals or finals with more than five days rest are 15-10 (60%) straight up and 13-12 ATS (52%). Once again, home teams are 11-3 straight up and 9-5 ATS (64%). Road teams are 4-7 SU and ATS (36%).
How about this? I looked at teams with at least five days rest facing an opponent coming off a seven-game series in the conference finals or Finals. Those teams are 8-3 straight up and ATS (73%). (Home teams are 4-2 SU and ATS.)
How about with more than a week's worth of rest, like the Nuggets? They are 9-5 straight up and ATS (64.3%).
Home teams: 6-2 SU and ATS, road teams 3-3 SU and ATS.
The takeaway here is that rested favorites have performed a little better than all other rest-situation teams, and rested dogs have performed a little worse. It's rest if you're at home as a favorite, rust if you're on the road as a dog.
Ultimately, much of this comes down to whether your team is on a hot streak or at cruising altitude, and forgive the pun, but the Nuggets have been at cruising altitude. If you like Denver, you should like it more, not less.