With the Miami Heat edging closer to the Eastern Conference leader board, not only are we eight weeks out from legitimately discussing the NBA playoffs, we’re now on the cusp of discussing scenarios that could plague the current champions from securing a three-peat.
For the Heat there’s only one certainty: They’ve got this. There’s no other mindset, no concerns, no "what ifs". In late June history will be made and you’re a fool to think otherwise.
Right now though, it’s the Indiana Pacers who have the best record in the NBA. Their aim for securing a coveted place at the top of the ladder isn’t secure at all, due to the fact the Heat are now only one game back in the loss column.
The Heat and Pacers have distanced themselves by as many as nine games from the rest of the pack. The Pacers have spoken throughout this season of their need to have home court advantage should they inevitably meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.
We wonder if the Pacers would’ve pulled out a series win in last year’s battle if they possessed home court advantage. It’s hard to argue with the principle of recency, but is playing at home really a factor in determining who makes the NBA Finals?
I started to look back at the past decade starting with the 2004 Western Conference finals. The Minnesota Timberwolves then possessed an unstoppable Kevin Garnett, along with Sam Cassell. To most it looked the Wolves could finally break through to the finals, until Cassell was struck down with back and hip injuries late in Game 1, missing all but one minute from the 2nd and forcing him to completely miss games 5 and 6. Besieged by injury, the Wolves are one of the only teams who had an acceptable excuse for wasting their home court edge.
The following year again proved the home court theory to be shaky, the Phoenix Suns going down to the San Antonio Spurs in the 2005 Western Conference Finals, 4 games to 1. This time there was no player injury to blame, only the premise that having not appeared in the previous seasons playoffs cost the Suns valuable playoff experience. After dropping their first two games at home (121-114 then 111-108), the Suns simply couldn’t recover against Tim Duncan’s defensive army, the Spurs securing their place in history with a win over the Detroit Pistons to be crowned champions.
Ok so now we really start to kick the Pacers home court advantage theory in the face. The 2006 Eastern Conference Final had the Heat beating the Detroit Pistons 4-2 in the series.
History again continued to repeat itself for the Heat when they met the Chicago Bulls in the 2011 series, beating the Bulls 4-1. With the Bulls only win coming at home in Game 1 winning by 21 points, the certainty of home court advantage seemed like a thing of the past. Miami won the next four straight thus seeing LeBron James make his first Finals appearance in a Heat uniform.
My final stab at this home court advantage theory is the 2012 Western Conference Final. The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the San Antonio Spurs 4-2 regardless of the Spurs being up 2-0 before crumbling to a cutting-edge trio consisting of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The Thunder dusted off being down two wins and managed to turn it around with a rampant 4-game hammering over the rattled Spurs.
While the overall mentality will always be it’s easier to win at home then on the road, it’s how your team performs in those 48 minutes that will determine the outcome, not the arena.
In the past 10 years of conference finals from both the East and the West, last year’s seven game series was only the third in a decade, the two previously however did include Miami. 2012 with a home court advantage, they defeated the Boston Celtics just as they did in their 2005 seven game win over the Pistons at home.
Perhaps no matter what the outcome, the Heat will not be outdone on the road or at home. They know how to win away, they’ve shown how to win games down. Miami have it imbedded in their brains this season they will bring home a third consecutive championship. The unseen weapon of belief. The one factor no team can seem to do a thing about.
We can’t argue with the Pacers thinking here; it certainly warrants a psychological edge. One hopes for their sake they can surpass the efforts of their 2004 version when they last lost the Eastern Conference Final 4-2 to the Pistons.
Who had the home court advantage you ask? The Pacers did. But of course.