Basketball is back (sort of), and the Toronto Raptors are starting out their preseason the only way a team looking to prove something to the world should: by playing the best.
The Raptors are set to take on the Golden State Warriors in Vancouver, a battle between two of last season's final four teams. But, as you will remember, neither team took home the cup, leaving both with a longing for better results this year.
Of course, expectations for the squads are very different. The basketball world seems to have about the same faith in the Raptors as it did last season: they will be good, but worse than the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East. The Warriors, however, are expected by most to win it all, thanks in large part to the offseason addition of Kevin Durant.
Nonetheless, the game will offer a chance for both sides to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Here are three storylines to follow as the Raptors kick off their 2016/17 campaign in Van City (sort of):
The Rise of the Most Dangerous 'Big Three' Ever:
With Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson together under one logo, the Warriors are scary. We're talking the Miami Heat in 2010 scary. We're talking banned from controlling while playing against your friends in 2K scary. And, we're talking players across the league calling KD a coward because of their own fear scary.
On paper, this trifecta can do it all. They are all dynamite three-point shooters, Thompson and Durant are top tier defenders, Curry is one of the best creators in basketball, none of them are selfish, and they all want to win very, very badly. But, we've never seen them play together. In that intrigue, there is a little voice in the back of all of our heads that wonders if the Warriors could somehow be bad.
The truth is, they will probably rock. The three stars will probably gel early on, and take the league by storm, but until we see it, we can't know for sure.
Defence Today, Gone Tomorrow:
The Raptors have been pretty good each of the last three seasons, but the team's defensive effort has been bizarrely inconsistent. In 2013/14, the Raptors worked hard defensively, using that aggression as their calling card to the playoffs. In 2014/15, they dropped defence entirely, going with a score-first scheme that included the likes of Lou Williams. And, in 2015/16, defence was back, with offence occasionally falling out the window.
So, what will we get this year? The roster isn't really that different. There are new pieces, but the main cogs are all back. So, will head coach Dwane Casey go back to his roots and emphasize defence, or will he take the team another direction?
To make their way deep into the playoffs, the Raptors will have to play well on both sides of the ball. The team's offence isn't a major concern, as it will continue to run through Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, so it's really their effort and skill on the defensive end that remains to be seen.
The Valanciunas Leap:
Fans have been anxiously waiting for Jonas Valanciunas to make the leap into the elite NBA centre conversation since he came over to play at the start of the 2012/13 season. The big Lithuanian's skills have certainly improved, but his numbers and usage have remained about the same.
Last season, Valanciunas averaged 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, just 0.8 and 0.4 more than the season before, respectively. Now he is a fully grown man, who fans are hoping will show the talent he flashed in 2013 at Las Vegas Summer League, when he was named MVP.
At his best, Valanciunas should be able to score from anywhere inside the three-point line, and defend any centre and most slower power forwards. During the preseason opener against the Warriors, he will get his first chance to show what he has learned, facing off against the newly acquired Zaza Pachulia.
Where to Watch: TSN at 7:30 p.m. ET