Once again, home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs will be on the line when the Thunder and Spurs meet Thursday night.
Unlike last season, when San Antonio won 24 of its final 27 to take the top spot, the Thunder now has a chance to control its own destiny.
If the Thunder wins out, it will finish at 62-20 and go into the postseason as the No. 1 seed for the first time. That would give the Thunder all potential Game 7s at home through the Western Conference Finals.
San Antonio, which is a game and a half ahead of the Thunder, still could finish with an identical 62-20 record under that scenario. But since both the Spurs and Thunder lead their respective divisions and the four-game regular season series between the two teams would be split, Oklahoma City would win the next tiebreaker, which is conference won-lost percentage. Even if both teams won out following a Thunder victory Thursday, the Thunder would own a 39-13 conference record while the Spurs would finish at 37-15 in the West.
“We want to get the best seed possible. We're not going to shy away from that,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But once you get in the playoffs, anything can happen. Just because you have the 1 or the 2 seed that doesn't necessarily mean you're going to advance.”
But history shows it helps immensely when it comes to a potential Game 7.
Since 1948, home teams are 89-22 in Game 7s. That's an 80 percent success rate.
“It's always nice to have an extra game, if needed, on your home floor,” Brooks said. “Especially our floor. It's such an important part of our success with the fan base that we have.”
The Thunder overcame the Spurs last year despite San Antonio having home-court advantage in the Western Conference Finals. But that was largely because OKC won Game 5 in San Antonio before closing out the series at home. Still, that series victory was a long shot. After falling into an 0-2 hole, the Thunder essentially overcame 1-in-16 odds in that improbable comeback.
And that was with James Harden.
Should the Thunder and Spurs meet again in the conference finals, Oklahoma City will go in with the inferior supporting cast. It's the opposite of what we saw last year and the thing that could make owning home-court advantage that much more critical.
Harden single handedly alleviated numerous Thunder weaknesses a year ago, but mostly the team's susceptibility to scoring droughts. San Antonio had no answer for his playmaking and perimeter shooting.
Now, with Harden in Houston, the Thunder's bench is a work in progress at a time when San Antonio's complementary pieces have not only remained intact but also progressed.