Saturday, April 19, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Warriors fall to Magic, but have people taking notice with fast start

OAKLAND — When the Golden State Warriors began madly celebrating a stunning, last-second win against defending NBA champion Miami on the Heat’s home court this week, Jarrett Jack quickly offered a message to his teammates.

Time to move on. Next game. Act like you’ve done this before.

Thanks to Jack, that catchy “We Believe” mantra that gained mass popularity during the team’s unlikely run to the second round of the 2007 playoffs has suddenly turned into “We Belong.”

“He was telling guys that because we were jumping around like we won a championship,” said rookie Draymond Green, who had the winning layin with less than a second remaining in Wednesday night’s 97-95 victory against LeBron James and Co.

Nobody will argue the Warriors belong, at least for the moment.

Golden State got off to its best start since 1991-92 and the team sits in second place in the Pacific Division behind the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors (15-8) lost 99-85 at Orlando on Friday night.

Everyone involved guards against getting too excited at this early stage.

“I’m trying to convey the fact we’re only a quarter of the way into the season,” general manager Bob Myers said. “Games are played over 48 minutes. It’s good to get off to a good start, but it can all go away.”

The Warriors won the first five games of their season-long road trip before Friday’s loss and still have a stop Saturday at Atlanta before returning home. Golden State has won eight of its last 10, and had victories in 15 of its first 22 games to start the season for just the second time in 45 years.

Green returned to the locker room Wednesday night to find 83 congratulatory text messages waiting for him on his phone, a number that grew to about 130 well wishes in all.

“I know it’s a great road trip for the entire organization,” Green said by phone from Florida. “One thing when we went to Miami, we expected to get a win. We weren’t hoping to get a win. We’re going in there expecting to get a win.”

Even Myers said there was “no way” he would have guessed the Warriors would begin the road trip 5-0.

In the sports-heavy Bay Area, the Warriors’ remarkable start has many taking notice. Years of futility have long put them low on the totem pole behind the World Series-winning San Francisco Giants, the San Francisco 49ers or even the neighboring Oakland Raiders.

But that is changing with owner Joe Lacob in charge. Lacob preached patience as he made sweeping changes after taking over the once-proud franchise two years ago.

“So much fun, finally, to be winning!” Lacob wrote in an email.

And the Warriors are hopeful of landing their first All-Star since Latrell Sprewell in 1997 — if they can keep this good thing going.

When Myers walked into the gym Tuesday in Miami and saw nearly everyone on the floor for an optional practice, he knew things were beginning to click for this team. It looked like a full turnout, even though a couple of players were receiving treatment.

Myers approached second-year coach Mark Jackson practically in disbelief.

“It says a lot when you have every guy show up on an off day and get his shots up,” Green said.

When Myers met up with Heat President Pat Riley before Wednesday’s game, Riley had only encouraging words about the state of the Warriors.

“He’s a mentor, a guy that I think is at the highest level of what I do,” Myers said. “All he’s accomplished as a player, coach, executive, I asked him if we could talk. Usually you do try to talk to the opposing general manager on the other side. His comments were that he believes our organization is changing in the right ways and developing a different identity — and he said this before the game. It was very complimentary. We’d love to get to where they are.”

After the monumental victory in Miami, Lacob and Myers flew all night back to the Bay Area, where Lacob had a board meeting first thing Thursday morning and Myers needed to return home to help his wife with their two young daughters. They landed at 2 a.m., Lacob slept from 3:30-6:30 a.m. then headed to his 8 a.m. meeting.

Going on just three hours’ sleep hardly fazed Lacob, who only wished the schedule would have allowed him to stay with the team for the final two games of the trip.

“Honestly, worth every minute of lost sleep,” he said.

Especially with his team accomplishing things it hasn’t done in decades. Golden State won the initial five games of a road trip for the first time since sweeping a five-gamer in 1978.

Jack, Green and others are complementing Stephen Curry and David Lee.

“We’re definitely establishing more momentum, but we want to keep it going,” Green said. “We’ve been on a pretty good roll the last 15 games. We know it’s a long season and it can quickly change. We’re just dedicated to getting better.”

Through Wednesday’s win, Lee had posted a career-best five straight games with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

And the Warriors realize how much better they will be once center Andrew Bogut gets back on the court. Myers still believes it will be this season, though the team is no longer guessing exactly when considering Bogut underwent microfracture surgery in April.

The 7-foot Bogut, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2005 out of Utah, was acquired in a trade from Milwaukee on March 13 that sent high-flying guard and fan favorite Monta Ellis to the Bucks. Bogut broke his ankle last Jan. 25 when he landed awkwardly against Houston, then missed the rest of the season.

With Bogut back in the lineup, everyone figures the Warriors will have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, for real this time — something Jackson promised a year ago as a rookie NBA coach but didn’t fulfill in a 23-43 finish in the lockout-shortened season.

They’re doing just fine without Bogut so far.

“We are now relevant,” Lacob said. “We belong? Perhaps, but that will be determined later in the year. For now, I am sure this group of players, who we love, will keep their heads down and focused on our collective goal of winning by continuing to grind out every single possession.”

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

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