Warriors finally sniffing playoffs, Kobe A-OK and more
Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2007 12:48PM; Updated: Wednesday March 21, 2007 12:52AM
To the beaming delight of a fan base that hasn't enjoyed playoff basketball (or enjoyable basketball, really) in 13 years, the Golden State Warriors won six of their first seven games in March and appear to have the best chance of any of the West's also-rans (your Clippers, Hornets, Kings and Timberwolves) at holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot.
It's been an odd season for the Warriors, befitting their goofball coach, who made waves in late February by declaring his team's chances at the playoffs kaput and admitting to the media (minutes after a 30-point loss to Chicago) that he "didn't know what to do" with the team he was hired to lead.
This sterling bit of wordplay wasn't intended as a call to arms, and, to Nellie's credit, he probably wouldn't take claim for as much. To his discredit, however, it was a glass-half-empty approach that took the focus away from two disparate but significant elements of Golden State's status: that of a flawed team that still needs a major personnel overhaul, but has (and had, even after that blowout against the Bulls) a good chance at the playoffs.
The current focus is on Golden State's inspired play this month with Baron Davis in the lineup. The Warriors have won all six games in which he's been healthy, and Davis has shot 54 percent from the floor. And that's a good bit of news, but it does distract slightly from how murky this team's future remains.
There's talent here. Jason Richardson (despite a wasted first half to this season) and Davis (despite the 25 games he misses every year) form a solid, if well-compensated, backcourt. Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus (assuming he's long for Golden State) add scoring and defense on the wings, while Sarunas Jasikevicius may come around one of these days -- though he has a player option after 2006-07, and might not stick in the Bay Area past this summer. Andris Biedrins is as good a young big man as exists, while Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington are average basketball players -- and you can't get enough of those.
But where do we go from here? This team is capped out for a while, internal development (the phrase that the 1999-00 Warriors introduced to the NBA lexicon) won't be enough to vault Golden State to the top of the conference, and the only young talent that other clubs would be interested in doesn't hold a big enough cap figure to bring in an established star via trade. Jackson is as close to untradeable as NBA players get, and though Davis can play, he's not far behind with two years and $34 million left on his deal. The squad is reminiscent of recent Minnesota Timberwolves teams that were good enough to make the playoffs and well-regarded enough to be paid handsomely, but not flexible enough to move up in the ranks of the NBA elite. And even that Timberwolves comparison (an organization that made the playoffs in every year from 1997-2004) is a strong stretch.
So, for now, let's turn our attention to the warm rays emanating out of the Bay Area: The Warriors are probably in line for the playoffs, which means one of the NBA's most underrated (and knowledgeable) fan bases will get a bit of well-deserved first-round action. Play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald and analyst Jim Barnett are one of the league's best television duos, and this group has been an engaging bunch all season long. Self-loathing or not, Nellie has come through on his promise to do away with those who bore him; he keeps the ball moving and the kids running.
Ten of Golden State's remaining 14 contests come against playoff teams, starting Tuesday night at Utah. A .500 record should grab that eighth spot easily; remember, the Clippers, Kings, Timberwolves and Hornets also have to hold serve with wins of their own, no small feat for any among this mediocre bunch.
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