The Golden State Warriors have been the NBA's resident king of the hill in three of the last four seasons.
Retaining that title will require clearing a different final hurdle this time around.
Unlike the Warriors' previous four trips to the NBA Finals, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers won't be awaiting them in the championship round. James bolted for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, sending the Cavs into a potentially lengthy rebuilding phase.
Golden State instead gets the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Toronto Raptors Eastern Conference finals clash, with the latter enjoying a 3-2 lead and hosting Saturday's Game 6.
With the final round set to tip May 30, let's look ahead at the championship odds for all three teams (courtesy of VegasInsider.com) and predict how either possible series would play out.
Odds To Win the 2019 NBA Finals
Golden State Warriors: 2/7
Toronto Raptors: 4/1
Milwaukee Bucks: 6/1
Potential Series Matchups and Predictions
Warriors vs. Raptors
Golden State collected a victory against all but one team this season. Bet you can't guess the one exception.
OK, of course it was Toronto. Why else would we mention it in this section, right?
The significance of that regular-season sweep is...probably nothing. The teams met in late November and again in mid-December. Suffice it to say, much has changed since.
Besides, the Dubs stopped tracking their successes in the regular season a long time ago.
"It's a different vibe, a different feeling when you're on the climb like Toronto is and Milwaukee is, like we were a few years ago," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after their 20-point home loss to the Raptors on Dec. 12. "It's harder (now) to get up for each game. There are certain nights where you can just feel it; you don't have that energy. It's not an excuse. It's just reality."
Still, the victories were reminders of the potential problems Toronto might pose.
The Raptors have a slew of long-limbed defenders to cycle through switches and potentially stymie the Warriors' motion offense. Firepower can be an issue, as Toronto struggles to find consistent high-level scoring sources beyond All-NBA second teamer Kawhi Leonard. But quantity can offset a minor lack of quality, as players like Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol can pop for 20-plus points any given night.
It's hard to envision the full-strength Warriors losing four times in seven tries against the Raptors. But with Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins both battling the injury bug, maybe that could open the door to an upset.
Our crystal ball isn't counting on it, though.
Prediction: Warriors in six
Warriors vs. Bucks
A matchup with Milwaukee might feel familiar to Golden State.
Much like the Cavs did with LeBron James, the Bucks spread the floor with shooters around the similarly freakish Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Handling an athletic, near-7-footer with ball skills is hard enough on its own. It can feel impossible when players like Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Nikola Mirotic, Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill are causing rainstorms on the perimeter.
"It's nothing that they don't bring every single night," Kerr said after the Warriors dropped a 134-111 loss to the Bucks in November. "They attack the rim really well and they are strong."
Defensively, Milwaukee has the personnel to make life difficult on the Dubs.
Between Bledsoe, Brogdon, Hill and Middleton, the Bucks aren't short on bodies to throw at splash siblings Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Middleton and Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, could tag-team the matchup with Durant, whenever he's ready.
Milwaukee, though, allows a worrisome amount of threes. No team surrendered more three-point takes (36.3 per game) or makes (13.1) this season, which could make for a long night if Golden State's snipers are finding their marks.
The Warriors' small-ball looks could make it tricky for the Bucks to keep Lopez on the floor. Deploying Draymond Green as a havoc-wreaking 5 might also be the best defensive strategy for bothering Antetokounmpo.
While the Bucks fared better than the Raptors this season—by wins and efficiency—they could be worse-equipped for this matchup.
Prediction: Warriors in five