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Warriors eye return to playoffs

Warriors eye return to playoffs The endless predictions for the NBA season have been documented and the Warriors are pegged to miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season, and for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons.

But are the Warriors poised to be a Cinderella team? Do they have it in them to beat the expectations and surprise their naysayers?

Their chances of making the postseason will hinge on whether all that preseason talk about defense was more than just talk.

"Defense has been a big problem for us," swingman Stephen Jackson said. "I can't guard everybody. We've got five guys on the court and everybody has to do their part. Our defense has to get better us to even think about having a great year."

Plenty reason exists to believe the Warriors won't be much improved on defense. Golden State doesn't have a roster loaded with good individual defenders. Only Jackson is noted for his man-to-man defense on the perimeter, and centers Ronny Turiaf and Andris Biedrins have been known to hold their own in the paint.

Aside from those few, and maybe swingman Kelenna Azubuike, the Warriors have a collection of players who lack the size, speed or savvy to be reliable defenders. The need for better defense is a clich? in the Warriors' locker room. It was cited as the culprit in most of the 53 losses last season.

The Warriors ranked 30th in points allowed per game (112.3) and 23rd in field goal percentage defense. Even when they prevented an opponent from scoring, they often failed to secure the boards. Golden State gave up a league-high 1,165 offensive rebounds (Chicago was second with 1,017).

Turiaf said the Warriors are hoping to crack the top 15. They will certainly have to do better than last year to finish top eight in the Western Conference.

"We had really bad defense," Biedrins said, "and now this year we're kind of (trying to make) sure people won't score a lot of points on us. We've tried to get better at helping each other and getting rebounds, especially if we play with a small lineup."

Nelson's decision to start a backcourt of Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis each listed at 6-for-3 and a sandwich over 180 pounds is sure to toughen the task of improving the defense because of the mismatches it will create on the perimeter. But the Warriors coaching staff is hoping an enhanced approach will cover up the team's limitation.

Assistant Keith Smart, who was named the Warriors "defensive coordinator" by Nelson, created a regimen with fellow assistant Stephen Silas. It included a simplification of the defensive schemes, increased film study and an emphasis on team defense.

The Warriors didn't even install its zone defense until late in the exhibition season because they wanted to create a culture of defensive accountability.

The whispers in the locker room is that it's working so far. Forward Corey Maggette, never confused for a good defender, is among the team's highest-rated defenders based on the Warriors' evaluation system. Curry has all but bragged about this year's squad rating 10 percent higher after the final preseason game than last year's team.

"They are very much ahead of where they were last year," Smart said. "We're helping a lot of guys out by just being simple defensively, not changing game-to-game. . . . I think that helps with all our guys. We're trying to build our base and get them to trust defense first man-to-man. You have to have a lot of accountability because there is no bail out."

The Warriors have something to hang their hat on. Last season, they led the league in blocked shots and were seventh in forcing turnovers. Plus, Nelson said he's planning to play arguably the Warriors' best defensive lineup, which pairs Turiaf and Biedrins together, something he wouldn't do last season because of the pair's offensive shortcomings.

But perhaps their biggest asset on defense is Jackson, who is their closest thing to a lockdown defender.

Almost assuredly, any hope the Warriors have of improving on defense and thereby becoming a serious playoff contender goes through Jackson, who will often be matched up against opponents' best perimeter player.

But is he fully committed?

Jackson made waves most of the preseason. His pulic comments about his criticism of the franchise and desire to be traded, along with his two-game suspension for a blow-up on the bench against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 9, raised questions about whether he would produce for the Warriors .

But Nelson doesn't share those questions. Neither does Jackson, nor his teammates.

If Jackson is on board, and this heightened defensive effort has its desired effect, then perhaps the Warriors will be better defensively. And if they're better defensively, any hope of sneaking into the postseason becomes that much more feasible.

"There are problems that we'll have to solve," Nelson said. "I don't know all of the answers at this point, but defense is a high priority."


Number Name Position Height/Weight Year in NBA Salary

7 Kelenna Azubuike G/F 6-5, 220 4th $3.1M

15 Andris Biedrins C 6-11, 240 6th $9M

10 Speedy Claxton G 5-11, 170 7th $5.2M

30 Stephen Curry G 6-3, 185 R $2.7M

8 Monta Ellis G 6-3, 180 5th $11M

19 Devean George G/F 6-8, 235 11th $1.6M

1 Stephen Jackson G/F 608, 215 10th $7.6M

2 Acie Law G 6-3, 202 3rd $2.2M

50 Corey Maggette F 6-6, 225 11th $8.9M

33 Mikki Moore F/C 7-0, 225 12th $1.3M

22 Anthony Morrow G 6-5, 210 2nd $736K

4 Anthony Randolph F 6-11, 210 2nd $1.8M

21 Ronny Turiaf F/C 6-10, 250 5th $4.1M

23 C.J. Watson G 6-2, 175 3rd $1M

32 Brandan Wright F 610, 210 3rd $2.7M


Stephen Jackson: Everyone knows he wants out. So how long can the disgruntled ex-team captain play the good soldier? How does he react when they go on a losing streak, or if he winds up playing 40 minutes per night again? Jackson has been so important to the Warriors , he can impact the chemistry of the locker room, the development of the youngsters, the fluidity of the offense and the vitality of the defense. He can either help this young team be competitive or spin this thing out of control.

THE GUARD PLAY: The Warriors are featherweight in the backcourt, led by the starting tandem of Monta Ellis and rookie Stephen Curry. Throw in back-up point guard C.J. Watson, who is smaller than Ellis and Curry, and shooting guard Anthony Morrow, who is a fairly undersized shooting guard, and they have the makings of a killer Hoop-it-Up squad. Either they need to be scrappy on defense and create turnovers or put up huge offensive numbers. Maybe both. Especially watch how Ellis, who is coming off an injury plagued season, and Curry, the purest of the point guards, play together. Ellis seems to be the only one who thinks the Warriors can't win with them sharing a backcourt.

Anthony Randolph: The second-year forward is regarded by many as the future of the franchise. But the season hasn't started yet and he's already a victim of coach Don Nelson's meddling ways. How Nelson handles Randolph who by all accounts has improved his work ethic and gained a better grasp of his emotions and how Randolph reacts will undoubtedly impact locker room chemistry and focus. If nothing it else, it will determine if Randolph has the breakout year the Warriors are banking on.

THE NBA'S STRUGGLING CONTENDERS: Teams like Dallas and Cleveland and Denver may find themselves in need of a boost at the turn of the calendar year. Either team plus other unlikely suitors such as Portland, Washington and Toronto could benefit from a productive and versatile perimeter player like Jackson. Someone may be willing to make an impressive offer to Warriors general manager Larry Riley before the trade deadline.

THE INJURIES: Nothing can guarantee a bad season like injuries. The Warriors had 240 total games missed. Already, forward Brandan Wright is out, possibly for the year, after left shoulder surgery. Nelson said center Ronny Turiaf has torn cartilage in his left knee and Randolph (sore back) and swingman Kelenna Azubuike (bone bruies, left ankle) are hobbling into the season. Not to mention forward Corey Maggette's propensity for injury. The season could get ugly fast if the Warriors have to deal with too many injuries.

Warriors vs. Rockets ?Today: in Oakland, 7:30 p.m. ?TV/Radio: CSN/KNBR (680)

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Added: October 29, 2009


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