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Do you think Thursday's Raptors-Warriors game (8 ET, TNT) is a Finals preview? Why or why not?
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Steve Aschburner: I’m not prepared to say “think” because it’s so early, I tend to believe Boston will pull itself together and I’ve got no crystal ball on injuries. But I will admit to hoping this game is a Finals preview. Golden State is the presumptive representative from the West, no daring mental leaps required there. As for Toronto, it would be nice to see that club flourish now that it’s had the speedbump of LeBron James scraped away as if by a massive snowplow. Anything that might encourage Kawhi Leonard to stick with the Raptors beyond this season is a plus, IMO, and I’ve got to think the NBA and its global embrace would appreciate a Finals played in part on foreign soil for the first time. Beyond that, there’s the Xs & Os, with Toronto sporting the depth and versatile looks to maybe challenge the Warriors more than we’ve seen in the championship round the past two years.
Shaun Powell: Ultimately, yes, these will be the teams still standing in June, despite what the Warriors are going through at the moment. It's always tricky to project the Raptors beyond the conference finals, but Kawhi looks like a difference-maker. And the surge in Pascal Siakim's play has been a bonus. Forget what you see from the Warriors right now; they're lacking Steph Curry, a sense of urgency and of course DeMarcus Cousins. Plus: Nobody else in the West seems poised for a takeover.
John Schuhmann: Based on what we know now, Golden State and Toronto should be the favorites in their respective conferences. The Warriors have their issues and obviously aren't as good with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in street clothes. Despite those guys having missed 10 and nine games, respectively, the champs have the most wins in the West. The return of Curry will result in the return of this team's mojo and there's not a team in the West that can stop a healthy Golden State come April and May.
The Raptors have been helped by an easy schedule, but there's no denying their talent and depth. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green have both been terrific additions, Kyle Lowry remains the best point guard in the Eastern Conference and Pascal Siakam has turned into a versatile force. The Raptors rank second in the league offensively and there was stretch in Memphis on Tuesday where we saw how good they can be on defense, switching seamlessly, while also being disruptive. We'll know more after they get through this tough stretch of opponents they're playing over the next few weeks.
Sekou Smith: Could be. I hope so. I can only imagine how entertaining that series could be. But it's way too early to chew on any potential Finals matchups involving anyone other than the Warriors. I think the Eastern Conference playoff chase is going to involve several teams and their stars. My thought was that Boston would simply fill that void left by LeBron James leaving Cleveland for Los Angeles. But I'm not ready to count out the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks or Celtics yet. I think any one of them could survive the playoff grind and make The Finals. Even with all of their recent struggles and extracurricular drama, I still need to see someone dethrone the Warriors to believe it.