COACHING CHANGES EXPANDED MATCHUPS DEPTH CHARTS CURRENT ODDS
Stretching the Field: Warriors come out to play
By Shawn Clarke, NBA Contributing Editor
(Sports Network) - "Can you dig it?"
Those words, spoken by the character Cyrus in the 1979 film "The Warriors," were directed toward a throng of gang members standing side-by-side in New York in a plot to turn against the authorities and control the city.
"Can you count, suckas? I say the future is ours if you can count," said the leader of the Gramercy Riffs.
You could say Cyrus, played by Roger Hill, was a visionary leader until his untimely demise and believed miracles are "the way things ought to be." http://youtu.be/bTUrWYv2vtU
Is it a miracle the Golden State Warriors are on a fast dash out of the gates in this NBA season? Some may not dig the Warriors' success, saying it's a fluke or fool's gold, but the results don't lie.
The upstart Warriors have been under control in coach Mark Jackson's second year on the bench, racing to an improbable 15-7 start -- the fifth-best record in the competitive Western Conference. Only the Los Angeles Clippers have a better mark in the Pacific Division after 22 games.
Jackson went 23-43 during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign and has made a complete 180 with this current bunch. Golden State added a few players, notably injured center Andrew Bogut, but it has been the usual suspects in leading scorer Stephen Curry, David Lee and Klay Thompson spearheading the Warriors' ascension to significance.
Golden State has been warriors on the road as evidenced by its 5-0 mark on a seven-game road trip against Eastern Conference foes. The Warriors, who would be near the top had they resided in the East, are 9-1 against the conference this season. No win was more important than a thrilling 97-95 victory over the defending champion Miami Heat on Wednesday.
"It feels good what has taken place thus far on this trip," Jackson said. "At the same time enjoy the day but let's put ourselves in position to understand that our work is not complete and we look forward to the next challenge."
The Warriors have prevailed in five straight and 12 of 15 games, including wins over formidable foes such as Atlanta, Dallas, Brooklyn, Denver, Indiana and Miami. Golden State is averaging 99.5 ppg while allowing 98.6 ppg, and is making almost 50 percent of its shots (.455).
The Warriors have scored 100-plus points in six of their last eight games, mainly because of Curry and Lee. Curry, who's been surprisingly healthy these days, leads the squad with 19.5 ppg and Lee is right behind with 19.0 ppg. Curry, known as a distributor with 6.5 assists per game, has netted 20 or more points in 11 of the previous 13 games, posting averages of 21.3 points and 7.2 assists in that time.
Who knows where the Warriors would be had Curry not been at full strength?
Lee, meanwhile, has registered 20-plus points and 10 or more rebounds in each of his last five games, and is one of eight players to have played in all 22 games this season. The durability factor has been very important for Jackson and the early success, but there will be some bumps in the road.
"I think this is a basketball team that, for their inexperience, they're experienced," Jackson explained. "They understand the traps in this league and they understand what we have to do in order to be successful. We're not a team that can walk in and say 'ok this is a trap game.' They're all trap games for us. We gotta play our brand of basketball to put ourselves in position to win. We understand who we are and how we have to go about winning."
Even if pundits and prognosticators feel the Warriors will take a dive in the upcoming weeks, those words will fall on deaf ears. Following the big win in Miami, Lee, the only NBA player to average at least 19 points, 11 rebounds and three assists, used words such as "confident," "excited" and "ready to roll" in describing the team's mentality. Lee has averaged 24.2 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists during the trip, and has scored 20-plus points in six straight games.
Golden State, off to the best start since 1991-92 when Tim Hardaway and Chris Mullin ran the show, has enjoyed its best start on the road since 1978. Improvements in rebounding and defense have aided the Warriors. A few rookies and a solid bench have been key in the early going, too.
First-year players Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli along with reserves Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack have done their part in making Golden State's revival possible. Barnes and Ezeli have already cracked the starting lineup, averaging 9.1 and 3.0 points, respectively. Ezeli is more of a rebounder and blocker than a scorer, and one of two rookies starting at center (Jonas Valanciunas).
Out of the playoffs the last five years, the Warriors have to keep their collective foot on the proverbial gas pedal and not lose focus for even bigger accomplishments down the road. Time's will be tough, however, but perseverance pays off in the long run.
And it won't be miraculous if Golden State finally ends its postseason famine.
12/14 13:38:55 ET