A year ago, almost everyone inside the Thunder locker room downplayed it.
Now, it almost seems as if they're trying to speak it into existence.
Home-court advantage is once again within reach as the Thunder's season hits the home stretch. After its 91-79 victory against Boston on Sunday afternoon, the Thunder can now overtake the Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference standings with a win Monday in San Antonio.
This time, the Thunder isn't sugarcoating the truth.
“It's big,” said Nick Collison. “I think you always want to be in the best seat possible going in (to the playoffs).”
San Antonio sits a game ahead of the Thunder going into Monday's mega matchup. Should the Thunder win, the two teams would have identical records and OKC would temporarily own the tiebreaker having won two of the first three head-to-head contests. The final meeting, which figures to be just as significant, is scheduled for April 4 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Of course, this all matters because the Thunder and Spurs are widely projected to lock horns in the Western Conference Finals for the second straight postseason. With no clear edge, the team with home-court advantage could be the last one standing.
And of course, that wasn't the case last year.
The Thunder knocked off the Spurs 4-2 to earn its first trip to the NBA Finals. But after falling into an 0-2 hole, the Thunder essentially overcame 1-in-16 odds in that improbable comeback.
When it appeared for a time that the Thunder was toast, the manner in which OKC forfeited the right to home-court advantage last season by going 8-7 in April was not forgotten. It didn't help, however, that the Spurs won 21 of their final 24 last year, including their final 10.
“We'd love to have home-court,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But it doesn't guarantee that you'll win.”
That's a lesson the Thunder learned in heartbreaking fashion in the Finals. After facing the Heat with home-court advantage, the Thunder quickly lost it and the series, 4-1.
“If you want to win a championship … you're going to have to win on the road,” Brooks said. “It always works that way.”
The Thunder, though, is 4-1 all-time when it owns home-court advantage and 1-2 when it does not.
“It's important,” said Kendrick Perkins. “No matter how guys try to look at it, you always want home-court as many playoff series as you can.”
It's been ages since Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has cared about playoff seeding. When he came to town last year Popovich spoke of team success in the postseason being largely dependent on a club's current climate.
“It's more what kind of rhythm you have going into the playoffs,” Popovich said. “How much trust teammates have built. How healthy they are.”
The Thunder has those ingredients and the Spurs don't at the moment. At least not health.
Spurs guard Tony Parker is sidelined for about a month with a severe ankle sprain. Starting in Parker's place is second-year guard Cory Joseph, who carries season averages of 3.8 points and 1.6 assists.
But the Thunder is proceeding with caution.
“Without Tony, they still win games,” Brooks said. “They've got great players. They've got a deep team. They're not just a one-man, two-man, three-man team. They got a very good bench that plays hard and plays together.”
Said Kevin Durant: “They move the ball so well. Everybody knows their role. Guys don't go outside their means as far as doing what they're supposed to do in the system. Tony Parker's out, Tim Duncan's out, Manu (Ginobili's) out, there still the same result … I think it's because of what Pop teaches. Everybody knows what to do.”
Seems the Thunder has decided to embrace an important task, too.