As the All-Star Break approaches, the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves with the second best record in the NBA, only 1.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs have really come on lately winning nine of their last 10. They’ve had the best record in the conference each of the past two seasons as well and look well on their way to doing it again.
Should the Thunder feel extra pressure to catch the Spurs in the regular season? How bad do they need that No. 1 seed?
Obviously, the Thunder were able to overcome being the No. 2 seed last year in the playoffs and not having homecourt advantage in the Western Conference Finals vs. the Spurs. But do they really want to have to go through that again this season?
The Thunder – like a lot of teams – play significantly worse on the road than at home. This is sometimes even more amplified because they have such a great homecourt advantage too.
It’s on the offensive end where the Thunder struggle away from home. Defensively, they are right where they are at home. They allow 99.8 points per 100 possessions on the road and 99.2 at home, not much of a drop off.
But offensively the Thunder score 106.4 points per 100 possessions on the road compared to 114.1 at home. Their true shooting percentage falls from 59.9 percent to 56.8. Their assists go down and their turnovers go up.
The biggest dropoff on the road is the three-point shooting. The Thunder are second in the league shooting 39.1 percent from beyond the arc this season. At home, they shoot 44.2 percent and on the road just 34.4 percent.
The Thunder attempt more threes on the road than at home. Combine that with the fact that the assists go down and turnovers go up and it’s pretty clear to see that the offensive execution takes a big hit for OKC when they’re not playing in Chesapeake Energy Arena.
This is why the Thunder shouldn’t risk ending up with the No. 2 seed again and potentially seeing the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals for the second straight year.
The Thunder would also likely see the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round if they are the No. 2 seed. As the No. 1 seed they would end up against the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies or Golden State Warriors, all of which are much better matchups than the Clippers.
The Thunder aren’t the same team they were last year either. If they were rolling out the same guys this season who passed many playoff tests last year, there would be less unknowns with this team.
Replacing James Harden – who was a beast in the playoffs and especially against the Spurs – with Kevin Martin who has just played six career playoff games could be a big problem.
Russell Westbrook is going to see an increase in responsibility come playoff time with Harden’s playmaking gone. Even Kevin Durant could find it difficult handling the ball more against playoff defense.
You want to try and eliminate as many question marks as possible when the playoffs come around. One thing we don’t know is how this Thunder team will handle playing on the road in the playoffs.
This is something the Thunder have time to change. They’ve stumbled a little bit through the middle part of the season but for the home stretch, they need to be more focused than ever. They should eye setting a franchise record for regular season wins and make sure that their fan get to see them play as much as possible in the playoffs.