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Monday, October 29, 2007

Warriors hope shocking upset carries over to new season

By Ryan Leong
PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA (TICKER) -- The Golden State Warriors made history last May when they became the first No. 8 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in a seven-game playoff series. But despite the accomplishment, the question remains - can they do it again?

Consider the enormity of their feat and how it ranks with past performances.

The playoffs have been filled with memorable upsets, including a hobbled Willis Reed's inspirational Game Seven of the 1970 NBA Finals - catapulting the New York Knicks to the title over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The 1975 NBA Finals featured the Warriors beating the heavily favored Washington Bullets.

And in 1994, the Denver Nuggets became the first eighth-seeded club to beat a top seed in a best-of-five matchup when they shocked the Seattle SuperSonics.

But last season, Golden State's improbable performance may have upstaged it all.

The Warriors not only toppled the powerhouse Dallas Mavericks, they trounced a 67-win squad, which was primed for a second straight trip to the NBA Finals.

While there have been changes made to the squad for the 2007-08 campaign, was last year's playoff run a fluke? The Warriors were 26-35 on March 4 and only a 16-5 surge made them eligible - needing to clinch a spot on the final day of the season.

Injuries are a major concern for Golden State. Star guard Baron Davis played 63 games last season - his most since suiting up for 67 in the 2003-04 campaign with the New Orleans Hornets - and has been an injury-prone performer for his entire career.

But despite injury problems, Davis did average a team-high 20.1 points and added 8.1 assists. However, he knows he has room to improve.

"I'm coming into training camp having an opportunity to work on continuing to get stronger, more flexible," said Davis, who claims he's in the best shape since his rookie season. "I know what the season is going to entail, going on my ninth year, so I'm better prepared to deal with training camp and the season."

In the offseason, Davis wanted a contract extension, but the Warriors decided to wait until next summer to sign Davis - even if it means the club could lose its best player.

Davis can opt out of the final year of his deal and become a free agent on July 1, 2008 if he is willing to sacrifice his $17.8 million salary in 2008-09. But publicly, Davis won't budge.

"There's really nothing to comment on," he said. "I'm confident this is an organization that takes care of players that they want, and my job right now is to get this team off to the right track and really concentrate on the season.

"I've got two years left, I make a lot of money, and there's no reason to complain. My contract states that I'm here and, sometimes, you say things and get caught up and forget that it's going to go in the paper."

Also, the team traded away fan-favorite Jason Richardson to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for rookie Brandan Wright, the eighth pick in the draft.

Richardson had been recovering from knee surgery and lost some of his explosive abilities, but Wright is an unproven commodity as a rookie and, most likely, will see limited playing time.

"I don't have any dreams or anything like that about how many minutes I'll be playing or how many points I'll be scoring or any accolades I might be trying to win," Wright said. "The biggest thing for me is coming in being the best player I can be, continue to get better during the season.

"I know there's going to be lots of ups and downs in my rookie season, but you've got to be on the upward slope when you continue your progression of your career to get better."

Guard Stephen Jackson will miss the first seven games of the season as a penalty for reportedly firing a gun at an Indianapolis strip club. Jackson averaged 16.8 points in 38 contests after he was traded to the Warriors from the Indiana Pacers during the season.

"It could have been a lot worse," said Jackson, who was named a co-captain along with Davis and Matt Barnes. "15 (games) would have been harsh. (Commissioner David Stern) gave me seven. Seven games, I can't complain because I put myself in a position to be suspended.

"So I'm going to stay positive with it, work out and be ready to play when I come back. I'm going to grab seven jerseys from seven guys from the team and try to stay positive, sit at home and watch the games and be a big cheerleader and be ready to play when it's time to come back."

Al Harrington, who came over in the trade with Jackson, averaged 17.0 points and 6.0 rebounds last season and knows that all eyes will be on Golden State heading into the new campaign.

"We're probably one of the most talked about teams this year," Harrington said. "We've got a lot of challenges ahead of us. We're not sneaking up on anybody this year, not at all.

"But I think we need to carry ourselves that way knowing that every time we step out there we've got to have our best foot forward because everybody's going to be gunning for us now."

Overall, the Warriors ranked 13th out of the 16 teams in the last season's playoffs in rebounding and were last in the Western Conference. Their inability to crash the boards was their downfall against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals.

"Our rebounding hurt us a lot," Harrington said. "As a team, we've got to really focus in, and that's one of my main goals. I definitely feel if I can be a better rebounder this year, it'll make us a better team.

"The biggest game of that series (against the Jazz) was when we lost Game Two. That's how this league is and that's how series go. There's always one game that'll make or break you, and we were never able to recover. But this year, we've got a full training camp together and we added some more weapons, so we'll see what happens."

Coach Don Nelson, who is second to Hall-of-Famer Lenny Wilkins on the all-time list with 1,232 wins, never openly gives out praise of his team and always seems to employ some psychology in his comments to the media to motivate players.

"Everyone's expecting we'll get better, not worse," Nelson said. "And if that happens, it kind of then depends what other teams do. There's a lot of good teams that didn't make it last year, and we were one of the fortunate ones.

"It was kind of a lucky year for us to make it on the last day of the season and then do well in the playoffs, but nothing is a given in this league. There's eight teams that are going to be trying for two spots left, and we'll be one of those."

Whether or not it is reverse psychology, Nelson does not seemed convinced that the Warriors definitely will be back in the postseason.

"It's going to be hard to make the playoffs like it was last year," he said. "If we can pick up where we left off, and we don't have to wait until the last game of the season to make the playoffs, that'd be a good thing."

But despite the tone they set last season, the Warriors know that it has been a while since they've had continued success. Golden State's last consecutive postseason appearances were from 1990-92.


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