With or without Durant, Golden State should get challenge from Raptors
The Golden State Warriors are approaching rarefied air, with a chance to become the sixth team in NBA history to win three straight championships.
The Bulls did it twice, the Lakers twice -- once in Los Angeles, once in Minneapolis -- while every team has a long way to go to catch Boston's eight straight from 1959 to 1966.
Standing in the Warriors' way are Finals first-timers the Toronto Raptors, a team that certainly has the star power in former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to pull off an upset.
So these Finals are in Canada for the first time and Oakland, California, for likely the last time, since the Warriors will move across the bay into a new arena next season. With Game 1 on Thursday night in Toronto, here's a quick look at some of the key points that could decide the series:
Chemistry test: Steph Curry and the Warriors have been rolling in old-school mode, with 5 straight wins since losing Kevin Durant to a calf strain.
Durant has been ruled out for Game 1, but if he returns at some point will Golden State be able to return to dominant-player mode?
It also seems likely DeMarcus Cousins will play in the Finals, probably in short bursts. He's been out since Round 1 with a quad strain, but he didn't take a pay cut this season to sit and watch the Finals.
For now, it appears Andre Iguodala is good to go despite a calf injury.
Mismatched styles: Toronto went all-in on a big lineup, and the presence of veteran centers Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka helped slow down Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia's Joel Embiid in the last two rounds.
The Warriors use a completely different style, fast-paced and filled with long-range shooters. The Raptors will try to score some points down low, but there's probably no chance they'll be able to play Gasol and Ibaka together, like they've done in the playoffs.
Bench help: Rockford native Fred VanVleet had been ice cold in the playoffs, but he went on an all-time hot streak, hitting 14 of 17 shots from 3-point range in the final three games against the Bucks.
Curry and Klay Thompson put pressure on every team, so it's vital for Toronto to get some shooting and defense from VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and Danny Green, another player whose outside shot has been on vacation.
Leonard can't do everything by himself.
X-factors: Durant will open the series on the sideline, while Iguodala isn't 100 percent. So Golden State likely will need some young guys to step forward on the big stage. The candidates include Kevon Looney, Jonas Jerebko and former Windy City Bull Alfonzo McKinnie. The Warriors' depth might be their only real weakness.
Prediction: Warriors in six.