3 ideal first-round playoff matchups for the OKC Thunder

Sacramento Kings v Oklahoma City Thunder
Sacramento Kings v Oklahoma City Thunder / Joshua Gateley/GettyImages
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The NBA playoffs are less than a month away, and the OKC Thunder are preparing themselves for a likely homecourt advantage in their first-round series. The Western Conference has been unbelievably close in the standings this season and even with less than 20 games to go, the Thunder could face a large number of different opponents in the opening stage.

OKC has been excellent this season, and will likely finish with a top-three seed in the West, which could mean not knowing their opponent until after the Play-In Tournament.

With every win and loss, the standings are constantly changing, but one thing is clear -- The Thunder are looking for the most optimal first-round matchup to settle nerves, gain experience and confidence and advance deeper into the postseason.

As the end of the regular season approaches, and the Playoff and Play-in picture becomes more clear, there are few teams the Thunder would view as their preferred opponents for various reasons.

Sacramento Kings

While looking at head-to-head matchups between the Thunder and Kings this season may reveal a 1- record, that doesn't paint the full picture. Oklahoma City matches up well against Sacramento across the board.

Domantas Sabonis would pose as the Thunder's biggest threat, with his size, strength, and ability to dominate the glass. The All-Star has had his way in all of the matchups this season, with two triple-doubles and a high-digit double-double.

There has been a glaring focus on the Thunder's ability to close out possessions and chase down rebounds, which has been a point of weakness all season long with their lack of size.

Despite Sabonis being one of the league's top rebounders, he is not all that menacing as a defender or shot blocker. Sabonis averages only half a block per 36 minutes, well below average for a center.

In fact, Sacramento's other frontcourt members, Keegan Murray and Harrison Barnes, both average less than a block per game combined. The Kings in general are a terrible rim-protecting team. They rank second last in the NBA in blocks per game, and 15th in opponent points in the paint.

This lack of rim pressure has worked wonders for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as he has averaged 38 points per game against the Kings this season. The Thunder star is aware of Sabonis' low shot-blocking presence and has truly taken advantage.

Even in the first two matchups, when the Thunder as a team had issues scoring the basketball, Gilgeous-Alexander continually showed his offensive brilliance by effortlessly drawing fouls and creating shots at the rim and in the mid-range at his own pace.

De'Aaron Fox is Sacramento's main ball-handler and scorer, and he has given the Thunder some trouble this season. He had a 41-point night in a Kings win in mid-December and was the main reason the Kings were able to close out the game. However, he was kept quiet by Lu Dort in the most recent meeting, being held to just 15 points and 3 turnovers.

The Kings are an average defensive team but are 12th in offensive rating. They focus their attack on outscoring their opponents with quick runs and hot shooting.

The real X-factors for Oklahoma City to match this offensive outburst are Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren. Half-court offense is so vital in a playoff setting when play slows and defenses have a scheme. The pick-and-roll duo of Holmgren and Williams has been key for the Thunder this season, with so many good looks being generated, and there is no doubt that will continue.

Williams' ability to generate and operate in the mid-range is going to be unbelievably crucial for the Thunder's success.

Sometimes tough shot-making is needed to break open holes in defenses, and Williams has shown he is more than capable cashing in on such attempts.

The Thunder will have the knowledge that the Kings like to play their defense by trying to force turnovers, rather than funneling drivers towards a rim protector. With this, Williams will be able to get downhill off screens and look for multiple options, such as a rolling Holmgren or elite off-ball cutters such as Isaiah Joe and Aaron Wiggins.

The Kings' league-average defensive gameplan is why the Thunder would be happy with a playoff series matchup. This season has proven SGA has been able to operate efficiently and comfortably against them, and the lack of rim protection really suits Oklahoma City's style.

Watch for swing factors that could be the deciding factors in this series, being the supporting cast's ability to knock down open threes, inexperience, or taking care of the basketball against a scheme trying to force them.