It's been a pretty crazy and entertaining regular season so far. Kudos if you predicted that Atlanta or Golden State would have such incredibly impressive years. As always: the more we think we know, the more we realize we know very little.
The Western Conference has been ridiculously competitive and deep, while the Eastern Conference has been more solid up top than we expected. Meanwhile, many pundits' preseason favorites - teams like the Bulls, Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and especially the Cavs - have sometimes struggled.
In of itself, excellent teams having regular season problems is not that significant an issue (although the extent of Cleveland's problems has been stunning.) The best NBA teams - the very top teams in the league each year - usually rise to the occasion when stakes become highest, even if they have doldrums during the course of the regular season.
But this year might be a little different. Maybe.
With so many good teams in both Conferences - especially out West - there is a chance that some of the preseason favorites will get poor playoff seeds. This could be an interesting development, and contrasts intriguingly with recent data indicating that home-court advantage is less vital than ever before.
I have never been a believer in the overriding importance of home-court advantage once the playoffs start. It's obviously nice to have the best record in the Conference, but it's not essential. In my opinion the very best teams usually find a way to win, regardless.
However, the plain fact of the matter is that to make it to the NBA Finals a team basically needs to be one of the top four playoff seeds in its respective Conference. Since the playoffs expanded to the 16 team format in 1984, only two teams lower than the fourth seed have advanced to the Finals: the Knicks in the strike-shortened 1999 season, and the Rockets in 1995.
We can discount the Knicks' strange success in 1999 right away - that season was bizarre, only 50 games long and pretty much the definition of fluky. Which leaves us only that superb Houston team in 1995 as a true example of a team having their playoff seeding not matter.
The Rockets in '95 were the defending champs and playing in a brutal Conference (four teams had 57+ wins in the West that year; this year looks to be similar.) Houston managed to win just 47 games, but still had probably the league's best player in Hakeem Olajuwon. They also had traded for Clyde Drexler midway through the year. That veteran squad was the 6th seed but proceeded to take down the top three seeds in the Western Conference, and then smash the top-seeded Orlando Magic in the Finals. They saved their best, obviously, for when it mattered most.
The '95 Rockets stand as the great exception to the seeding rule. To make the Finals every other team of the last thirty years - except for that freak Knicks team - has been a top-4 seed.
There is a decent chance either the Cavs or Bulls will not be a top-4 seed. Same goes for the Spurs and Clippers. And it seems very unlikely the Thunder will be able to secure a top-4 seed. Could any of these teams make the Finals in spite of being a low seed - or will the home-court disadvantage eventually wear them out?
Playoff seeding seemingly does not usually matter this much, but with so many high winning percentages in 2015, this year could be different. It's something to keep an eye on, when so many teams are on track to win over 50 games. The concept of home court-advantage being important in the playoffs will be put to the test many times this Spring.