Don’t look at the Western standings. Don’t do it. I said don’t do it.
The Spurs have crept up on the Thunder are now tied with Oklahoma City in the loss column. And with San Antonio owning the tiebreaker and probably the more favorable schedule down the stretch, it’s become a real possibility OKC could slip out of that top spot to No. 2. How much does it really matter? And should the Thunder sell out for the top slot?
1. True or false: The Thunder will finish as the No. 1 seed in the West.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: True. For one simple reason: The Thunder want the top seed, the Spurs are indifferent. Gregg Popovich has zero issue with sitting his starters, especially in back-to-back games, of which the Spurs have four remaining, including their back-to-back-to-back (all on the road). Pop has already made it clear he doesn’t really care about playoff seeding that much and I don’t take Pop for a liar. I’m sure the Spurs want to win the West’s top spot if they can, but it’s not going to be their focus, while I think the Thunder have their mind set to ti.
Patrick James, Daily Thunder: True. The Thunder have an easier finishing schedule than the Spurs, and the Spurs are more likely to just coast in and not care about the No. 1 overall seed than the Thunder. Home court is more important for OKC than the Spurs — the Spurs have what it takes to overcome four games on the road, experience, in abundance. So they might just decide they’re cool with No. 2 and sit some guys with a few games to play. Who knows. But the Thunder should be able to capitalize on a relatively easy slate to finish No. 1.
Beckley Mason, ESPN.com: False. The two teams’ schedules are comparable in terms of opponent quality, but the Thunder are a strong road team, but the Spurs are one the road three fewer times than the Thunder in the last three weeks. While the Thunder are a strong road team, the Spurs are too though at home. With these two tied in the loss column, it’s advantage Spurs.
2. Scale of 1-10: How important for the Thunder to finish as No. 1 in the West?
Young: Nine. I think it’s mainly a mental thing. To have held the top spot all season long and then to lose it wouldn’t be something easy to take. Especially since the Thunder very clearly want to finish first while the Spurs aren’t entirely pursuing it.
James: Seven. It’s more important for the Thunder than any other team. But remember, this is a team that came home to Oklahoma City for Game 3 of the conference finals last season not needing to win another road game to be able to beat the Mavs. OKC famously crumbled at home, yes. But it’s not like getting the No. 2 seed would doom the Thunder’s chances. Still, the Thunder’s home court advantage is one of the best in the league. That in and of itself is reason enough to need No. 1 more than others. But any edge to overcome the Thunder’s lack of experience relative to the other West contenders is a big one.
Mason: Nine. It’s very important. The Thunder will crush any opponent they might face in the first round, so the value of the top seed really depends on whether the Clippers hold on to that fourth seed. If they do, avoiding the Lakers in round two would be a luxury, especially going into a killer series with (I assume) the Spurs. Home court advantage would be vital in that one, as both the Spurs and Thunder dominate at home.
3. Multiple choice: The Thunder need to finish No. 1 because…
A. For added confidence
B. For homecourt advantage
C. For second round matchup purposes
D. All of the above
E. None of the above
Young: The easy answer is D, because that in a nutshell is the bonus to finishing first, but the it’s B. The Thunder need homecourt. They’re one of the best road teams in the league but there’s a big difference in a Game 7 at home rather than the road. Imagine a Western Conference Finals Game 7 against the Spurs — would you rather it be in ravenous OKC or on the road in San Antonio? And more than that, having the first two games in your building is a major bonus too. You’ve got a great opportunity to go up 2-0 in every series. If the Thunder are going to make a maiden voyage to The Finals, they need every advantage they can get.
James: B. Once the second round gets here, there are no easy matchups. I’m not convinced the Mavs or Grizzlies will be any easier to beat than the Lakers. And the Thunder should have enough organic confidence from the first two rounds, assuming OKC wins them, to make up for any blow that would come to falling to the No. 2 seed. A Game 1 on the road would come a month after getting over the disappointment of finishing the regular season out of the No. 1 spot. There would surely be big shots and big moments to outweigh that disappointment by then. But the homecourt advantage in OKC can’t be understated.
Mason: D, but mostly B.