Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 90 minutes before each home game and 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.
I believe the Warriors will win the NBA Finals in six games over the Toronto Raptors for their third straight title.
Before I move on to the series preview, I am making this prediction with a guess that Kevin Durant will not return any earlier than Game 3 of the series, and even when he does, he will not be at full strength/health. If Durant had been healthy, my prediction most likely would have been Warriors in five (yes, I will say it again -- the Warriors are better with Durant).
The Raptors are a highly-disciplined defensive team that has great length and athleticism, led by Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi arguably has been the best player this postseason so far, but has been hobbled as of late. If Leonard were fully healthy, I could see him taking on the challenge of guarding Steph Curry. But in order to conserve his legs, however, my guess is he will start on Andre Iguodala or Draymond Green instead.
In that case, Kyle Lowry will most likely guard Curry, and Danny Green will take Klay Thompson. Lowry is not the quickest defender, but he is muscular and never shies away from contact. Expect Lowry to be extra physical with Steph. Meanwhile, Green has had plenty of experience guarding Klay as a member of the Spurs and has always been a steady defender.
The big question for the Raptors, like the playoff opponents the Warriors have faced before, will be how they defend the pick-and-roll with Curry. Marc Gasol has been a key contributor for Toronto, but will have trouble staying in front of Curry if switched onto him. The same can be said for Serge Ibaka, though he's bit more capable of moving laterally on defense.
It's likely the Raptors will hold off from sending any traps or double-teams at first, hoping that if Curry were to drive past Gasol then their exceptional defensive length in Leonard and Pascal Siakam would be there to help.
Game 1 in every playoff series is always a "feel out" game, where the two teams take a first look at how the opponent will defend them. Learning how both teams defend the pick-and-roll will be first on the agenda.
The possible return of DeMarcus Cousins has thrown some unpredictability into lineups and matchups. Even if he returns for Game 1, I'm going to assume he will not be in the starting lineup. With Gasol starting, my guess is Andrew Bogut will take the call for Game 1.
Bogut's leash will be short, giving Looney and Bell ample opportunities. As for Cousins, I would not be surprised if he returned to the Warriors simply to anchor the beginning of the second and fourth quarters, a unit that has struggled mightily with the loss of him and Durant. In that case, Cousins would be able to play two quick five-minute stints that should not test his conditioning as much.
On defense, the Warriors can shift Curry onto Danny Green and put Klay on Lowry. This would allow Steph to conserve some energy and hopefully stay out of foul trouble while letting Klay take on the bulldog in Lowry. Draymond Green is at his best when he is playing a "free-safety" type role on defense, so that means there is a good chance he will not start out on Kawhi.
If Iguodala takes the challenge of Kawhi, then Draymond could be on Siakam. While the Raptors' blossoming star shoots a respectable percentage from deep, Siakam will probably be in a position to shoot many corner 3s once Draymond leaves him to help against Kawhi and others. The Warriors probably will defend Siakam similar to the way they played against P.J. Tucker, hoping Siakam isn't as lethal from the corner.
For the first time in the Steve Kerr era, the Warriors will open The Finals on the road. Road teams typically try to steal one game of the first two, creating their own homecourt advantage in the series. The Warriors are a very good road team, so I expect them to win at least one of the first two games.
If not, then they would return home down two-games-to-none and would have to hope to get Durant back to turn the tides. Either way, I am predicting the Warriors win their third-straight title in the very last game in the history of Oracle Arena.
The perfect send-off.