The Thunder don’t play for three more days, but when they take the floor again, it’s probably going to be in their most important game of the (regular) season.
Well, assuming that the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference is important. So I looked it up. Here are the last 10 NBA champions and where they finished in the regular season:
- 2002 Los Angeles Lakers: No. 3
- 2003 San Antonio Spurs: No. 1
- 2004 Detroit Pistons: No. 3
- 2005 San Antoni Spurs: No. 2
- 2006 Miami Heat: No. 2
- 2007 San Antonio Spurs: No. 3
- 2008 Boston Celtics: No. 1
- 2009 Los Angeles Lakers: No. 1
- 2010 Los Angeles Lakers: No. 1
- 2011 Dallas Mavericks: No. 3
- 2012 Miami Heat: No. 2
So to recap, titles by seed: No. 1 (four), No. 2 (three) and No. 3 (four). Nobody lower than a three-seed has won a title over the last 10 seasons. And good news! The Thunder are almost assured to finish top three in the West this season.
Now, a lot of the reasoning in having homecourt falls in that you’d get a Game 7 in your building, if things came to that. Of course, a major perk in a winner-take-all game. Since 1948, home teams are 88-22 in Game 7s, with an average margin of victory of +6.2.
But I’d actually argue that having homecourt for the first two games is almost equally important. Because consider, just 15 teams all-time have come back from 0-2 holes. History says if you go up 2-0, you win better than 90 percent of the time.
Of course, the Thunder beat the odds last season coming back on the Spurs after falling in an 0-2 hole, but again, that made only a 15th time it’s ever happened.
In the Thunder’s short playoff history, they are 17-5 at home (and 7-14 on the road), and have played only one Game 7, which was at home and they won (2011 over Memphis). So clearly, the Thunder are better at home than on the road, but at the same time, they’ve won away from home in big games, most notably Game 5 against the Spurs.
Do homecourt matter? Sure it does. It’s better to have it than to not. But remember, the Thunder had it in the Finals last season and it did them no good. Homecourt doesn’t guarantee you anything. It just presents a potential advantage in some circumstances. But you still have to play.
1. Kevin Durant (Last week: 1)
KD’s shot at MVP is pretty much dead and gone, which almost doesn’t feel fair considering the season he’s having. It really should illustrate how unbelievable LeBron is when a guy that’s leading the league in scoring with 50-40-90 percentages and is the best player on a likely 60-win team isn’t even really in the discussion for MVP. I mean, it’s not really even a debate any more. That’s incredible.
What it means is that Durant will likely finish runner-up to LeBron a third straight year for MVP, which is basically unprecedented in NBA history.
KD’s time will come though. He’s just 24, and he’s getting better and better and better. He’s taken a major leap this season as a complete player and he’s only going to continue his ascension. If anything, another runner-up only serves as fuel for Durant. He wants the award, and he wants to be recognized as the league’s best player. But he realizes and understands that if he wants those things, he’s going to have to take them from LeBron.
2. Russell Westbrook (Last week: 2)
It was funny after the Wizards game in which Westbrook scored 21 points on just eight shots. He was asked about his efficient numbers for the night and he basically blew it off saying the only reason that happened was because he got in foul trouble early which limited his playing time, and then he made some free throws. Westbrook was essentially acknowledging that he understands he’s not an efficient player by trade, which I found really interesting.
Westbrook isn’t in the dark about his game and what he does. He just genuinely sticks to his guns and plays his game, regardless of the rest of the world. That’s great, and sometimes not great. But it’s what makes Russ, Russ.
Also, pretty quietly, Westbrook went through a Fisher-esque 3-point slump a couple weeks ago, missing 18 straight 3s. But he sorted it out last week, hitting 3-7 from deep. Just wanted to note that too.
3. Serge Ibaka (Last week: 3)
Ibaka’s importance to the Thunder is obvious, but and while there’s not exactly a stat to illustrate it, it’s pretty obvious to see how he takes the Thunder to another level when he’s performing. He’s been a very good offensive player for OKC this season, becoming a consistent midrange player, but he’s returning to form as the league’s most dominant shotblocker too. His eight against the Bucks felt more like 18 as he completely shut down the interior.
Over the last five games, Ibaka is averaging 5.4 blocks a game. And it’s not just the raw block totals, it’s the shot altering and interior intimidation. The Wizards, for example, were terrified to challenge Ibaka in the paint. He cane take the Thunder to new defensive levels when he’s owning the defensive paint like that. He affords the perimeter defenders more license to gamble and pressure, knowing they have a bailout inside if they get beat.
4. Kevin Martin (Last week: 5)
There’s going to be a lot more time to talk about Martin’s future with the Thunder later, but I wanted to get this out of the way early: If he’s genuinely going to be seeking around $8-10 million a year this offseason, I don’t see how that’s even close to worth it for the Thunder. Early on in the season, I kind of thought so. But seeing what his role has been reduced to and how the offensive focus is entirely on Westbrook and Durant, then Ibaka, then Martin, it seems to me the Thunder could find similar scoring production this offseason at a cheaper rate.
Not to mention Jeremy Lamb, who who knows what he can do.
That’s not to say Martin has been bad or anything. He’s been put in an incredibly challenging role this season and I honestly think he deserves to be commended for adapting the way he has. He’s very clearly made major sacrifices in his own game for this team. He’s taken a back seat to let Durant and Westbrook run their show. I think it’ll be interesting to see how he performs in the playoffs. A big postseason and we will all feel much differently about him.
5. Nick Collison (Last week: 4)
Collison was pretty solid last week and helped the Thunder. In other news, ice cream tastes good and Hasheem Thabeet is tall.
6. Thabo Sefolosha (Last week: 8)
I think the biggest casualty of Fisher’s addition has actually been Thabo’s minutes. Since Fisher was signed, Thabo has gone from averaging 28.4 minutes a game to 26.7 a game. He’s had three games where he’s played fewer than 20 minutes since Fisher joined all coming in the last four games), while having only two in 55 games prior.
So, considering Thabo is by far a better 3-point shooting, obviously a better defender, a better rebounder, runs the floor better, is much more versatile, a better passer and a far better finisher, explain to me why Fisher should get any minutes over Thabo? Oh that’s right, because Fisher has some jewelry that Thabo doesn’t. I forgot.
7. Reggie Jackson (Last week: 6)
One area of improvement Jackson definitely has to focus on this offseason is his perimeter jumpshooting. He’s hit just 21 of his 86 3-point attempts (24.4 percent), and only 17.9 percent of them in March. He’s got a bit of a funky shooting motion, and while obviously it’s too late to really overhaul anything, he’s just got to work at that outside shot. Because getting him to where he’s a real perimeter threat opens up a lot and probably earns him more time.
8. Kendrick Perkins (Last week: 7)
Not a very effective week from Perk. He didn’t play a lot against the Wizards, didn’t play week against the Wolves, and didn’t play much again against the Bucks. Derek Fisher says thanks for taking a little of the attention off him.
9. Hasheem Thabeet (Last week: 9)
A few folks in the comments were really touting Thabeet’s defense, which hasn’t really caught my eye this season, so I looked up the numbers. When Thabeet’s on the floor, OKC has a defensive rating of 96.5, which is really good.
Thabeet’s numbers are a bit skewed because he often plays so little, but per Synergy Sports, opposing players are 11-for-31 against him in the post (69th in the league) and 6-for-17 in isolation. What’s interesting is that opponents are just 6-of-14 against him in the pick-and-roll, meaning he hasn’t been attacked in it near as much as I assumed.
Does it mean he should play more? I don’t know about that. The sample size is kind of small I think to really make a determination, and I’m not sure I trust Thabeet playing 20 minutes. Besides, the Thunder are better when they’re small and athletic anyway. But going forward as players see their deals expire and such, Thabeet might be a future option for more time.
10. Derek Fisher (Last week: 10)
You know how Derek Fisher snapped his streak of consecutive misses? And then he even followed that up by going 1-2 last game against Milwaukee. But… he’s still just 2 for his last 24.
11. Jeremy Lamb (Last week: N/A)
I have no idea what the Thunder plan to do with Lamb, but I can’t help but wonder what his frustration level is. He was drafted in the lottery and while he likely expected to come off the bench this season for the Rockets behind Martin, he was surely going to get at least 20 minutes a night on a consistent basis.
Instead, he’s spent more time in Tulsa than anywhere else this year and has only appeared twice all year in any kind of meaningful rotation minutes. Probably not how he envisioned things coming off leading his Huskies to a national title.
12. Perry Jones III (Last week: 12)
You know, I wouldn’t be opposed to the Thunder just settling for the No. 2 seed and then like the last two or three games turning them completely over to the young guys. I feel like it would be fun to watch Lamb, Jones and Jackson play 40 minutes. It’s actually probably one of those things that seems fun in my head but when OKC’s down 15 at the half and I’m having ‘Nam like flashbacks to 2008, I’m going to wish I hadn’t wished that.
13. Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 13)
Remember that one time he played seven random minutes against the Bucks? Yeah, neither do I.
Inactives: Daniel Orton, DeAndre Liggins