After four straight years of the same matchup in the NBA Finals, the 2019 version will provide fans with a slight twist.
The Golden State Warriors will once again represent the Western Conference for the fifth straight year, matching only the Boston Celtics from more than 50 years ago. Although some fans have gotten sick of them after three titles in four years, the squad is clearly one of the top dynasties in NBA history.
On the other side of the spectrum is the Toronto Raptors, who are in the Finals for the first time in franchise history after defeating the Milwaukee Bucks in six games. It's also the first time since 2010 a team without LeBron James will be representing the Eastern Conference.
The result is a unique test for the Warriors as well as an exciting new battle for NBA fans.
NBA Finals Schedule
Game 1: Thursday, May 30, Warriors at Raptors, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 2: Sunday, June 2, Warriors at Raptors, 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 3: Wednesday, June 5, Raptors at Warriors, 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
Game 4: Friday, June 7, Raptors at Warriors 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
*Game 5: Monday, June 10, Warriors at Raptors 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
*Game 6: Thursday, June 13, Raptors at Warriors 9 p.m. ET (ABC)
*Game 7: Sunday, June 16, Warriors at Raptors 8 p.m. ET (ABC)
Perhaps the biggest storyline of the Finals will be the health of Kevin Durant.
The superstar suffered a calf strain in the second round, and he missed the entire Western Conference Finals. The team announced Thursday that it's "unlikely" he will play at the beginning of the series but the team is "hopeful" he will play at some point.
There is no denying the impact Durant has on the floor. The 10-time All-Star was named second-team All-NBA this season and was at his best in the postseason, where he averaged 34.2 points per game. He has also showed the ability to step up when it matters most, winning the Finals MVP award in each of the last two years.
Despite his production, the Warriors are still an elite team whether he plays or not.
Stephen Curry has been outstanding since Durant's injury, averaging 35.8 points per game while leading Golden State to a 5-0 record.
He scored at least 35 in each game during the four-game sweep over the Portland Trail Blazers, including a triple-double in the clinching Game 4. His effort helped put him in the record books:
With Klay Thompson and Draymond Green also playing at a high level, the Warriors hardly seem to miss a step without Durant.
"We're a great team because everybody who puts on the uniform goes out and competes at a high level," Curry said Friday, per Monte Poole of NBC Sports. "We look out for each other. There's a little bit of sacrifice. But at the end of the day, it's all about winning. And no matter who is on the floor, that's what we're all about."
This will create a serious challenge for the Raptors, even with all they have proved this season.
Kawhi Leonard will be the main attraction going into the next round after tearing through the postseason with an average of 31.2 points per game. He put on a show once again in Game 6 on Saturday, finishing with 27 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and two steals, plus this huge hammer to help put away the Bucks in the fourth quarter:
This type of go-to option is necessary for any team to win a championship, and Toronto has its star in Leonard.
Of course, the squad is more than just one player, and the full rotation has a chance to give Golden State a fight.
One of the most important factors will be the defensive work after ranking fifth in the NBA in efficiency, per Basketball Reference. Against the No. 1 offense in the league, this type of teamwide effort could keep each game close.
The Raptors could also create matchup problems in the frontcourt between Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol. The Warriors are thin in the post, especially if DeMarcus Cousins doesn't return from his quad injury, and the remaining players could struggle to defend these versatile weapons.
Adding in the valuable depth provided by Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell, and there are a lot of ways for Toronto to find success in the upcoming round.
This gives the underdogs a chance at pulling off the upset, but the Warriors are simply too powerful and too experienced, especially if Durant returns at any point. If either Curry or Thompson goes off, the Raptors just won't be able to keep up on the scoreboard.
Prediction: Warriors win in 6