WALLY SKALIJ /LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
The Golden State Warriors’ Kevin Durant makes a 3-pointer over the Los Angeles Clippers’ JaMychal Green (4) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on April 26. Durant is out in Game 1 against Toronto due to a strained calf.
BY DAN WOIKE
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
We’re four wins away from one team to know the thing we’ve tried to figure out since the very first game of this NBA season. The whole point of the 82-game marathon and the month-plus of playoffs is to figure out the best team in the league this season.
It’s the biggest question that needs to be answered — but it’s definitely not the only one.
Over the next two weeks we’ll have a clearer picture of the two teams still fighting, their places in history, their inner-workings and their superstars.
As we take a first look at the 2019 NBA Finals, here are the five questions we’re most interested in answering:
1.When will we see the full Warriors?
Maybe never again?
We know forward Kevin Durant won’t be on the court Thursday when the Warriors open the Finals in Toronto, his injured calf still hurt enough to keep him from doing on-court work with his teammates.
While the elongated schedule of the Finals ups the chances we see Durant on the court — there will be two days off between every game of the series except for Games 3 and 4 — it’s still far from a given.
The odds are much better that we’ll see DeMarcus Cousins for the first time since the first round of the playoffs.
“I feel better each and every day,” Cousins said last week. “That’s my whole goal, to make sure I get better with each day that comes. Like I said, hopefully, that opportunity comes and I’m able to get on the floor and help my teammates and try to help them win a championship.”
The Warriors have beaten three teams without a full and healthy starting lineup. But a fourth? That’ll be even tougher.
2. What will we make of Durant’s last three seasons?
Let’s answer the question sports talk shows have used to get hours and hours of content — the Warriors are not a better team without Durant on the court.
No team would be better without Durant, one of the most unique scorers in the NBA history and a good defender to boot.
But that question will continue to linger because Durant joined a juggernaut when he signed with the Warriors three years ago. They were great before. They were great after.
If he doesn’t make it back to the court and the Warriors win their third straight title, it’ll reignite a conversation that’s been asked in NBA circles since Durant signed with Golden State. The Warriors are better with him, sure, but did they ever need him in the first place?
The lack of credit Durant’s gotten could lead to him leaving in free agency, to a destination where he wouldn’t have to argue about the asterisks placed next to his NBA championships.
3. Is Kawhi Leonard really the best player in the world?
After the Raptors won the Eastern Conference on Saturday, Toronto president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri called Leonard the best player in the world — a message that was born as much out of emotion as it was out of calculation for Leonard’s pending free agency.
Leonard’s a two-way freak on the court — no player in the league impacts the game on both ends in quite the same ways. Giannis Antetokounmpo? Well, Leonard shut him down.
In this series, he’ll get tested whether Durant plays or not.
“Best in the World” is a subjective thing, but if he gets the Raptors past the Bucks and the Warriors in back-to-back series, the arguments against Leonard will all look pretty flawed.
4. Will the Raptors finally run out of gas?
How long have the Warriors been resting? When they host Game 3 of the NBA Finals, it’ll have been 20 days since Golden State’s last home game.
The Raptors, on the other end, expended a lot of energy to survive Philadelphia in the conference semifinals. That series went seven games and came down to, literally, the last second. And their six-game series with Milwaukee featured six grueling, physical games, including a double-overtime battle.
Toronto’s been worked this postseason — if guard O.G. Anunpby can return from an appendectomy it’d help — and the Warriors will be the fresher team.
5. How will the Warriors bid farewell to Oracle Arena?
The last question is a sentimental one, with the Warriors leaving Oakland and Oracle Arena following this season for the new Chase Center in San Francisco.
The fitting way for this to end would be with Stephen Curry, a player who seems to get his superpowers from that home crowd, having a huge game in his final outing in Oakland.
They’ll host three games this series — and if things break the right way, they could have two chances to end the series at Oracle Arena.
It would be the most poetic finish for the building and the fans inside, a perfect combination that’s made it one of the most intimidating NBA venues over the last decade.