NBA Sunday: Are The Warriors True Contenders?
At the quarter point of the 2012-13 campaign there have been plenty of surprises around the league and one of the biggest has been the emergence of the Golden State Warriors and their rapid rise up the Western Conference power structure.
The Warriors haven’t reached the postseason since the 2007 playoffs, but are currently tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the seventh best record in the league and sit fifth in the Western Conference standings. A return to postseason play now seems like a certainty.
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson believes the early success of his club has led to opposing teams starting to give Golden State their best shot night in and night out and as a result they will not be able to sneak up on anyone for the remainder of the season.
“The disadvantage is that we cannot sneak up on people anymore,” Jackson said regarding the raised expectation level. “It hurts us in the aspect of not being able to sneak up on people, but at the same time it’s a compliment. The advantage we have is we’re not good enough to think we can walk onto a court, feel good about ourselves and stumble into a win. We have to be consistent with our identity and our approach on both sides of the basketball every single game or we could lose to the best or we can lose to the worst.”
Six year veteran power forward Carl Landry says the team definitely noticed the lack of recognition they were receiving from the media before the start of the season and were determined to ultimately prove the doubters and their initial assessments wrong.
“Nobody counted on us to do anything anyway,” Landry told HOOPSWORLD. “So we had to pretty much let people know that we are a good team and we’re fighting for a playoff spot. At the beginning of the season we didn’t have anything to lose; we were just going out there and keep playing at 110 percent. At the end of the day we are rolling the dice and hopefully we can come out on top.”
Success playing away from the comfortable confines of home is one of the components which typically separate the league’s contenders and pretenders and the Warriors have played surprisingly well on the road compiling a 10-5 record, trailing only the San Antonio Spurs (11) for the most road victories during the early going.
In fact, the Warriors just concluded a seven game road swing (6-1) with victories over Detroit, Brooklyn, Washington, Charlotte, Miami and Atlanta; the lone loss coming versus the upstart Orlando Magic.
Many NBA veterans will readily admit that playing on the road reveals the true character of a roster’s fabric and the early success away from home shows the Warriors have an extremely tight knit group with team chemistry at an all-time high.
Landry says the foundation for the Warriors’ recent road success came during the preseason when his club received an opportunity to bond on the road, adding that the chemistry brewing is totally natural and unforced.
“I don’t really think it was this road trip,” Landry said. “I think it was the preseason when we had a three or four game road trip. We had a chance to go to the movies and chill and do things that normal teams didn’t have the option to do in the preseason. This helped us on the current road trip. We were able to get a head start in the preseason.
“The chemistry is at an all-time high right now and that’s something a coach can’t teach. You can’t put 15 guys together and just say ‘play ball’ and make it work, but we’re trying to find a way to win. We have a bunch of good guys in this locker room. Coach Jackson and his staff as well as the front office of this organization has done a really good job of putting a good group of guys together.”
Veteran guard Jarrett Jack, who boasts playoff experience, constantly tells his teammates to own the moment and warns the club not to get too complacent with the early results. Jack believes the Warriors are one of the league’s top teams because of their work ethic.
“We understand that we’re in this position for a reason,” Jack said. “We’re a team that has put ourselves in this position by doing the necessary things, like working hard every day so every time we step in between those lines we do a tremendous job of being able to come out with wins.”
The Warriors are 16-8 and have New Orleans, Sacramento, Charlotte and Los Angeles (Lakers) on deck. All four teams are currently sub .500 and all would be out of the playoff mix if the season ended today. The Warriors have a clear opportunity to strengthen their position in the standings, an opportunity which true contenders take full advantage of when presented.
Hawks’ Larry Drew Emerging As Legitimate Coach Of The Year Candidate
It is not often a team trades away a six-time All-Star and continues to maintain their footing as one of the league’s stronger units, but the Atlanta Hawks are holding up just fine after the offseason trade of Joe Johnson to Brooklyn.
The Hawks currently own the third best record in the Eastern Conference at 14-7, which puts the franchise just three games behind the first place New York Knicks.
At the helm of the Hawks’ early success is third year head coach Larry Drew who is in the final season of his contract with organization.
While many speculated before the start of the season that Drew was only serving as a stopgap sideline general until president of basketball operations and general manager Danny Ferry could bring in his own guy, Drew entered the season with a determined mindset to prove all of the doubters wrong.
“I’ve always been a big believer of playing the hand that’s dealt to you,” Drew told HOOPSWORLD. “There was a lot of talk about our trade moving Joe [Johnson], who is an All-Star, and bringing in so many new faces. People had already counted us out but my staff and I, we worked through it. We persevered through it.
“We’re trying to get us in the direction that we want this organization to go. I really feel that we are headed in the right direction. I heard a lot about the new faces and having so many guys on one-year contracts. Everybody was saying that it couldn’t be done. The one thing I wanted to do was prove them wrong and thus far that has happened. Knock on wood. Hopefully we can keep it going.”
While the early coach of the year hype has fallen on New York Knicks head coach Mike Woodson, Drew’s early season returns has clearly earned himself a solid spot in the discussion along with Memphis’ Lionel Hollins and Golden State’s Mark Jackson.
Drew has had to deal with roster overhauls in each of his three seasons leading the Hawks and believes the constant change has given him the ability to adapt to any situation handed out.
“I feel like I can work with any situation,” Drew said. “I can persevere through any situation. Here’s my third year as a head coach and all three years we’ve had basically different squads. This squad is probably the most challenging because we have so many new faces. We had a small amount of time to implement a system and get everybody on the same page, which was not very easy to do.”
Drew has compiled a 98-71 (58% win rate) regular season record as head coach of the Hawks and an 8-10 postseason mark.
The franchise’s current postseason streak stands at five, with Drew leading the club to the playoffs the last two campaigns.
The Return Of Ricky Rubio
Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio had been sidelined for the past nine months after suffering a torn ACL to his left knee last season. On Saturday night the second year guard made his first return to the lineup post-surgery and dazzled fans with an eight point, nine assist and four rebound effort in just 18 minutes of action.
More importantly the Timberwolves picked up an overtime victory over the Dallas Mavericks, their fourth straight win. The Timberwolves were in the think of the Western Conference playoff mix until Rubio went down last season and were clearly reeling without him in the lineup to start the 2013 campaign. Safe to say the T’Wolves’ playoff aspirations hinge on the health and play of the dynamic point guard.
“I love this game, I love playing basketball and I’m never going to forget how to play,” Rubio said according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune after his first action of the season.
T’Wolves head coach Rick Adelman joked with the media following the game on how Rubio’s presence in the lineup makes everyone else look better by default.
“When he has the ball in his hands,” Adelman said. ”I’m a much better coach.”