The Oklahoma City Thunder will have an easier time than anticipated in their attempt to claim the top seed in the NBA Western Conference on Sunday.

The Thunder are facing a Dallas Mavericks team that will be without several key players, according to Mike Curtis of The Dallas Morning News:

The Mavs will be without Luka Doncic (left ankle), Kyrie Irving (hamstring), Daniel Gafford (elbow), PJ Washington (ankle), Derrick Jones Jr. (shoulder), Dante Exum (foot), Maxi Kleber (back) & Dereck Lively II (knee) for tomorrow’s regular season finale against the Thunder.”

Through 81 games, only two out of the six playoff spots in the Western Conference have been settled. The Denver Nuggets' loss and the Thunder and Timberwolves' wins on Friday night will set up a photo finish for the number one seed out West, with all three teams having the same win-loss record (56-25) approaching the final day of the regular season.

With the one-seed still up for grabs, and with that distinction coming with it the perk of having homecourt advantage through the Western Conference Finals, expect the Nuggets, Thunder, and Timberwolves — all three teams coming from the Northwest Division — to go all out for their final game of the regular season.

Thunder hoping to avoid one playoff matchup

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) dunks against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second quarter at Paycom Center
© Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder have been one of the best teams in the NBA throughout the entire 2023-24 season.

Led by MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie big man Chet Holmgren, the present isn't only going well for the Thunder, but the future is bright as well.

One team that the Thunder need to avoid in the first round is the Los Angeles Lakers. While Oklahoma City may end up with the top seed in the West, they may have to go up against LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

James and Davis are two superstars who have made it to two Conference Finals together and have won a title. Although the Lakers are the ninth seed, they proved in the 2023 season that their playoff placement doesn't matter. Los Angeles won their play-in game in the 2023 season and went on to upset the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round, making it all the way to the Conference Finals.

The Thunder have also struggled against the Lakers in the regular season. Los Angeles holds a 3-1 record against Oklahoma City. The Thunder haven't had an answer for the size and physicality of  Davis and James. Davis has dominated Holmgren, averaging 27 points per game along with 13 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He also has 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in each contest.

The Thunder would obviously still have a good chance in this series because of Gilgeous-Alexander's great play. He is a nightmare for the Lakers to defend with their backcourt of D'Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves.

However, many other first-round matchups would be better for Oklahoma City, as it would be easier to make a deep playoff run.