"So, Tony and I were wondering which one of us you think you're going to face in the Finals--wait, sorry! I thought you were Derrick Rose. My bad."
In this edition of my ongoing dialog with Welcome to Loud City's J.A. Sherman, we forecast the final standings at the tippy-top of the topsy-turvy Western Conference. You can find my initial volley HERE, and, as always, feel free to engage in the comments on both sides of the border!
So what's your take on the recent fluctuations in the standings? Do you expect the Thunder to stay on top? And who, if anyone, scares you in the playoffs?
As I watched the Thunder lead in the West dwindle over these past few weeks, a lead that at one time seemed insurmountable, I was reminded of all of those games earlier in the season that now seem like needless losses. The Kings, Wizards, and Cavaliers all got a W at the end of the night because the Thunder weren't paying enough attention to what was going on, either at that moment or down the road. What could have still been a 2-3 game cushion is for intents and purposes a tie as both the Spurs and Thunder play out the string.
The Spurs, as you know, have been playing the most consistent winning basketball over the past two months, and for a brief moment, actually overtook the Thunder as the #1 seed. After the Thunder dropped a tough game to the Pacers
and you guys crushed the Hornets
, I thought to myself, "the #1 seed is gone, and it ain't coming back." The Thunder simply haven't been playing as well as the Spurs, so it was far more likely that OKC would drop a few of their last 10 games than the Spurs, all things being equal.
As the Spurs back-ups slowly ran out of gas against the Jazz, it was like I could here Pop saying to the Thunder, "This is a monster hand I have here, and I'm laying it down." He then watches the collective faces of the Thunder kids and sees how they'll respond.
Truth be told, I didn't fret too much when the Thunder lost that seed, and even if they do better these next two weeks, I think it is a bit of fools' gold to chase anyway. The truth of the matter is, teams that aspire to be champions have to be ready to win on the road. I would imagine that if a team's primary motivation throughout the regular season is to gain home court advantage, say for example the Suns
in 2007, and then that team loses home court immediately by dropping game 1, there is an immediate letdown. If your entire motivation is to secure home court, and then that goal is immediately taken away, what is plan B?
To be sure, I still would like to see the Thunder with home court advantage, but I think it is important to keep it in the proper context. If the Thunder do make it to the WCF and face the Spurs there, I know that the Spurs won't care whether they are starting off on their own court or the one in OKC. To have the proper championship mentality, the Thunder need to be in the same place, so that if they're suddenly staring at a big hand held by the silver and black, they won't flinch.