The chase for home-court advantage could come down to the final day of the season. How important is home-court advantage? Extremely important. If you’re not seeded No. 1 or No. 2, history suggests you won’t reach the NBA Finals, much less win the title. Of the past 20 champions, 18 have been seeded No. 1 or No. 2 in their respective conferences. The two exceptions were the 2007 Spurs and 1995 Rockets, veteran teams that had won before. Every other champion since the 1988-89 season was seeded No. 1 or No. 2 (see chart). San Antonio was assisted by No. 8 seed Golden State’s upset of Dallas two years ago. The Spurs regained home-court advantage in the Western Conference finals after eliminating Phoenix in the semifinals. Being the No. 1 or No. 2 seed also is critical just to reach the Finals. The past two decades, 90 percent of the teams in the Finals (36 of 40) were seeded No. 1 or No. 2. The Knicks, a No. 8 seed in 1999, were an aberration because of the lockout year. The other exception was the 1990-91 Lakers, a No. 3 seed that benefited from No. 2 seed San Antonio losing in the first round. Which brings us to the current season. Races for the No. 1 seeds essentially are over. The Lakers (West) and Cavaliers (East) are locks to nail down the top spots. But as history shows, the race for the No. 2 seed could be significant. Orlando’s win over Boston last week was huge. The Celtics and Magic split their regular-season series. It could boil down to the tiebreaker — best conference record. Boston currently owns a slight edge. The West has six contenders for the No. 2 seed. San Antonio, shooting for its fourth title in seven years, has the inside track but plays six of its last 10 games on the road, although New Orleans (today) and Cleveland are the only two road games against playoff teams. Houston has made a strong run without Tracy McGrady, but the Rockets face a challenging final eight games. Denver has the easiest schedule in the West, but the Nuggets have been a .500 team in March. New Orleans has been hot and cold and plays a brutal schedule down the stretch. Utah might be the team best equipped to push the Lakers. But six tough road games could prevent the Jazz from moving into one of the top four slots. A young Portland squad could use home-court advantage, but it’s doubtful the Trail Blazers can climb higher than fifth. Dallas is trying to assure it gets in by holding off Phoenix. The playoffs don’t start until mid-April. But if history holds true, the first two weeks in April could be important to which two teams are still playing in June.
Seed reportListed below are results of the NBA Finals and where each team was seeded in its conference the past 20 years. 2008: No. 1 Boston def. No. 1 LA Lakers 2007: No. 3 San Antonio def. No. 2 Cleveland 2006: No. 2 Miami def. No. 2 Dallas 2005: No. 2 San Antonio def. No. 2 Detroit 2004: No. 2 Detroit def. No. 2 LA Lakers 2003: No. 1 San Antonio def. No. 2 New Jersey 2002: No. 2 LA Lakers def. No. 1 New Jersey 2001: No. 2 LA Lakers def. No. 1 Philadelphia 2000: No. 1 LA Lakers def. No. 1 Indiana 1999: No. 1 San Antonio def. No. 8 New York 1998: No. 1 Chicago def. No. 1 Utah 1997: No. 1 Chicago def. No. 1 Utah 1996: No. 1 Chicago def. No. 1 Seattle 1995: No. 6 Houston def. No. 1 Orlando 1994: No. 2 Houston def. No. 2 New York 1993: No. 2 Chicago def. No. 1 Phoenix 1992: No. 1 Chicago def. No. 1 Portland 1991: No. 1 Chicago def. No. 3 LA Lakers 1990: No. 1 Detroit def. No. 2 Portland 1989: No. 1 Detroit def. No. 1 LA Lakers