OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson admits expectations are something new to his team, and they’ve done a poor job handling them so far this season.
The pressure to live up to the lofty standards they set is only expected to build – especially on Jackson – as the NBA’s marathon season heads into the stretch run.
The Warriors (31-22), who talked about contending for the Western Conference title in training camp, are tied for the final playoff spot entering the All-Star break. While they’re one game better than this time last year, it’s not where most – including outspoken Warriors owner Joe Lacob – thought they would be.
”There’s pressure in my entire life,” Jackson said. ”There’s pressure to coach a team. There’s pressure to try to become a professional basketball player. There’s pressure being a husband. There’s pressure being a dad. There’s pressure being a pastor. So this isn’t new to my guys. I think what’s new to my guys is all of the sudden the expectations, the bar has been raised. It’s a process to learn how to handle that, and I think that we’re figuring it out.”
Any talk of contending in the West has been put on hold. At this point, the Warriors need to worry about simply making the playoffs for the second straight season.
Golden State is tied with Phoenix (31-22) for the eighth seed in the West and only 1 1/2 games ahead of Memphis (29-23). The Warriors are also just five games behind the surging Los Angeles Clippers (37-18) in the Pacific Division, which they had hoped to win.
”I like where we are,” Jackson said. ”And I like the fact that adversity will allow this team to grow, to mature, to stick together and look forward to the second half.”
A week ago, the Warriors were relatively healthy – which has been perhaps their biggest obstacle the last two seasons – but are now hoping to heal over the break.
Center Andrew Bogut had not missed a game all season because of an injury until sitting out the last four with a bruised bone in his left shoulder. Backup center Jermaine O’Neal also missed the past two games with inflammation in his surgically repaired right wrist.
Both are expected to return when the Warriors visit Sacramento on Wednesday night.
”I believe when we’re healthy,” Jackson said, ”you could make the case we have the best starting five or in the discussion with anybody in basketball.”
That only makes more people wonder why the Warriors have been so inconsistent.
They won 10 in a row – with seven of the victories coming on the road – before dropping several games at home to teams with losing records, including Washington, Charlotte, Minnesota and Denver. While such lapses occurred often last season, more progress was expected this year.
”We feel like we could be better,” said point guard Stephen Curry, who will make his first appearance in the All-Star game when he starts for the West on Sunday night in New Orleans. ”Last year, we were pretty happy where we were. This year, we let games slip but still have a grip on where we’re trying to go. Morale is high. The vision’s pretty clear of where we’re trying to go when it comes to seeing ourselves, where we stack up in the Western Conference and what to expect down the stretch. Confidence is high right now.”
Perhaps it should be.
Curry and the Warriors captured the national spotlight late last season. They finished with a 47-35 record to earn the sixth seed in the West, upset Denver in the first round and put a scare into the San Antonio Spurs in the second round before falling in six games.
With a brighter spotlight nationally and an always fervent fan base in the Bay Area, just matching that success will not be celebrated the same way.
Not after bringing nearly the entire roster back – minus reliable reserves Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry – and signing free agent Andre Iguodala to a four-year, $48 million deal that had many preseason prognosticators labeling the Warriors serious Western Conference championship contenders.
The Warriors have certainly showed they have the ability to beat the NBA’s best.
Golden State has beaten Miami, Oklahoma City, Portland and the Clippers this season. And while the Warriors will have a week to think about LeBron James’ 3-pointer that lifted the Heat to a thrilling 111-110 victory on Wednesday night, it also reminded Golden State it could hang with the two-time defending champions, whom they won’t play again this season – unless both teams reach the NBA Finals.
”Hopefully, we see `em again,” Iguodala said. ”That’s the plan.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP