How Badly Do OKC Thunder Need Home-Court Advantage in Playoffs?

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How Badly Do OKC Thunder Need Home-Court Advantage in Playoffs?
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Four days after suffering one of their worst losses of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder exacted due revenge in demolishing the Los Angeles Lakers 131-102 Thursday night.

The win keeps OKC within a half-game of the San Antonio Spurs for the Western Conference’s top seed.

Barring any late-season swoon, the Thunder will enjoy home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

But is that good enough?

A year ago, Bleacher Report’s Bradlee Ross took a look at what, exactly, makes OKC’s home-court advantage so special:

This is part of why Thunder fans are so enthusiastic about their team: They do not know any other way to be a fan.

These people have been college fans all their lives, and suddenly they now have one of the best teams in the NBA positioned directly in the center of their state.

The youth of the Thunder’s stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, also adds to the college vibe that the fans have brought to Chesapeake Energy Arena.

That phenomenon has been borne out to an even greater degree this season: According to NBA.com, the Thunder are 17-2 at home against in-conference competition thus far, compared to 11-9 on the road.

When you account for OKC’s performance against likely playoff teams (the seven other teams currently seeded, basically), said number becomes even more impressive. 

Home Cookin'
Opponent Home W-L Road W-L Overall W-L
San Antonio Spurs 1-0 2-0 3-0
L.A. Clippers 1-1 0-1 1-2
Houston Rockets 2-0 1-0 3-0
Golden State Warriors 2-0 0-2 2-2
Portland Trail Blazers 1-1 1-1 2-2
Dallas Mavericks 1-0 0-0 1-0
Memphis Grizzlies 2-0 1-1 3-1

NBA.com

Logging a 15-7 record against the elite of a historically strong conference is nothing to shake a stick at. Still, how OKC’s playoff path shakes out remains the biggest factor in their quest for an NBA championship.

If the season ended today, the Thunder would be paired with either the Memphis Grizzlies or the Dallas Mavericks in the first round—a prospect that bodes well either way you slice it.

The second round, however, could prove a bit tricky. Assuming the Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers hold fast to the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively, OKC would be pitted against a team that has beaten them by an average margin of eight points a game, making L.A. by far their most dangerous matchup.

The Spurs, on the other hand, have yet to muster a win against Kevin Durant and company (the two teams will play their final regular-season game on April 3.)

Not that the Thunder will be taking any comfort in that fact, of course. If the Spurs have proven anything during their 15-year near-dynastic run, it’s that—when playoff time rolls around—they can win anywhere, any time.

Alan Diaz/Associated Press

If last season is any indication, the Spurs could look to rest their starters, as they did in going 5-6 down the 2012-13 stretch.

That would provide the perfect opportunity for the Thunder to pounce and snag the No. 1 seed—a gamble they can afford to take, given their relative youth and lack of playoff mileage.

But if OKC will be looking anywhere for its seed-jockeying cues, they're over in the East, where both the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers remain well within striking distance of home-court advantage throughout the postseason.

Each poses their own, unique pickle: While the Pacers currently boast the best home record in the NBA (30-4), the Heat are as familiar as anyone with both the playoffs horse-race strategies and winning in spite of them.

So far this season, the Thunder are 2-1 against the East’s two elites, having throttled the Pacers 118-94 in Oklahoma City (the two square off once more in Indiana on April 13) and split the season series with Miami—with each, oddly enough, having won on the other’s home court.

For clues on how this all might shake out, we need look no further than the Pacers’ Paul George who, in an interview with CBS' Jim Rome, suggested the Heat needed home-court advantage to best Indy (via Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver):

I mean, we know how well we play at home. We’re one of the best teams in the postseason last year defending our home court. We just know how big home-court advantage is when it comes down to postseason. That’s one of our main goals this year is to lock up the first seed so we can have the opportunity to play at home throughout the whole playoffs.

What’s more, it’s likely Miami knows this, too. That means a race to the finish in the East and, by deduction, a stronger impetus for Oklahoma City to make sure they finish on top.

After dropping Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals, the Heat went on to crush the Thunder in four straight games.

That first game was in Oklahoma City.

For OKC, securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs might not be sufficient to win the NBA Finals. But it sure seems necessary. 

 

All stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of March 13, unless otherwise noted.

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