Regardless of the outside expectations, the Thunder's most pressing piece of pressure is protecting its home court.
By finishing with 55 regular season wins — five more than the Nuggets — the Thunder earned the home-court advantage in this 4-5 matchup. All that really means is a Game 7, if necessary, would be played inside Oklahoma City Arena. Should the Thunder lose Game 1, 2 or 5 at home, while the Nuggets protect their house in Games 3 and 4, Denver would steal home-court advantage and have a shot to win the series inside the Pepsi Center in Game 6.
Most of the Thunder's key players have never performed under that pressure.
Last year, the Lakers had home-court advantage as the No. 1 seed. The Thunder couldn't steal a game in L.A., and the Lakers ultimately closed the series with a Game 6 win in Oklahoma City.
Winning on the road could be tough for both teams. The Thunder finished the regular season with a 30-11 record at home, which tied it with four other teams for the third best mark in the league. The Nuggets went 33-8 at home, tying them for the second best home record.
“That's the philosophy of our team and every team in the league, home-court pride,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have it. We have a great building. The fans support us and we want to continue to utilize that. We don't want to let them down. Our players understand that.”
The Thunder, like it has all season, is side-stepping the perceived pressure by maintaining a “one-game-at-a-time” approach. That mindset is intended to keep the focus on doing things properly each game as opposed to looking ahead and worrying about what might come next.
Against a deep and dangerous Denver squad, the Thunder insists that mentality is as important as ever.
“You're going to have some pressures. You're going to go through adversity through the series,” Durant said. “But it's how we bounce back.
“This Denver team is great at coming into somebody's house and quieting the crowd with the players they have. They do a great job of playing together and making it tough on our defense. But all we can worry about is ourselves. If we do that, we'll be fine.”