The Oklahoma City Thunder has secured home court and no worse than the No. 4 seed for the opening round of the NBA Playoffs, but despite these advantages the Thunder statistically faces a 50-50 chance of surviving.
Since the league began its current playoff format with eight qualifiers from each conference, the opening-round series between the No. 4 and No. 5 seeds stands 27-27 overall.
The No. 4 seed is 25-26 when it has homecourt advantage against the No. 5 seed. Beginning four years ago, division winners were guaranteed no lower than a No. 4 seed. On the three occasions the No. 5 seed has owned first-round homecourt advantage thanks to a better record, the No. 4 seed leads 2-1 in those series.
Friday's 7 p.m. contest between the Thunder and Denver inside Oklahoma City Arena currently stands as an opening-round preview between this season's No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the Western Conference.
Only the No. 1 seed has been secured, by San Antonio (60-19).
OKC could still climb as high as No. 2.
With four games remaining in its season, the Thunder (52-26) stands one game behind Dallas (53-25) for the No. 3 seed and three games behind the two-time defending world champion Los Angeles Lakers (55-23) for the No. 2 seed.
The Nuggets (48-30) own a three-game lead for the No. 5 seed, while New Orleans (45-33), Portland (45-33) and Memphis (44-34) are separated by only one game for the No. 6-8 seeds.
What is particularly interesting about the Thunder's position is every higher-seeded team in the West has struggled lately.
The top-seeded Spurs are five days removed from a six-game losing streak.
The Lakers once stood 17-1 after the All-Star break, but have lost three straight and play at Portland on Friday night.
Dallas rides a four-game losing streak into Friday night's home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Thunder, meanwhile, has won 16 of its last 20.
Though it is no surprise first-round meetings between the No. 4 seed and No. 5 seed are a tossup, having homecourt has been a significant advantage for several rounds of the playoffs, particularly since 2000.
In this millennium, teams with homecourt advantage in the first round (72-16), conference semifinals (36-8) and finals (9-2) share the exact same winning percentage (.818). Conference finals (11-11) have been a 50-50 proposition for the team with homecourt advantage.
(Since current format began in 1984)
Opening round: 166-50 (.769)
No. 1 vs. No. 8: 51-3 (.944)
No. 2 vs. No. 7: 49-5 (.907)
No. 3 vs. No. 6: 39-15 (.722)
No. 4 vs. No. 5: 27-27 (.500)
Conference semifinals: 85-23 (.787)
Conference finals: 37-17 (.685)
Finals: 21-6 (.778)
Opening round: 72-17 (.818)
Conference semifinals: 36-8 (.818)
Conference finals: 11-11 (.500)
Finals: 9-2 (.818)
Note: First round series were best-of-five from 1984-2002 before changing to best-of-seven; NBA Finals are 2-3-2 format, all other rounds are 2-2-1 or 2-2-1-1-1.