Following the Golden State Warriors' 104-96 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, coach Mark Jackson's team moved within a half game of the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers. With another victory added to their impressive resume, the Warriors are a legitimate playoff threat capable of rattling off a postseason series win or two.
With four straight wins to open their seven-game road trip through the Eastern Conference, the Warriors are off to their best start (14-7) since the 1991-92 season. Golden State has found victories on the defensive end and on the glass, both foreign areas for recent Warriors teams.
Despite center Andrew Bogut's injury struggles (who's missed all but four games due to an ongoing ankle problem), the Warriors have managed a plus-4.3 rebounding differential. Just one season ago, the Warriors were outrebounded by nearly 500 (minus-6.7 rebounding differential for the year).
But newcomers Carl Landry (6.9 rebounds per game), Harrison Barnes (4.7) and Festus Ezeli (4.0) have helped spur this rebounding focus in Bogut's absence. The Warriors have outrebounded their opponents in 14 games in 2012-13, winning 13 of those contests (via basketball-reference.com).
They have also drastically improved their defensive performance. In 2011-12, the Warriors allowed 101.2 points per game (28th in the league). This season, that number has dropped to 98.8 points per game (19th).
And they've managed this improvement without their best interior defender, Bogut, and best perimeter defender, Brandon Rush (out for the season with a torn ACL suffered in the team's second game).
As good as they've been defensively, they continue to boast one of the league's most potent offenses. They've topped the century mark 13 times this season, tallying 11 wins along the way.
Given this club's wealth of scorers (three players average at least 15.9 points per game) and their newfound ability to match those scores with stops, the restless Bay Area fanbase might be thinking a return to the postseason for just the second time since the 1993-94 season.
But how realistic are those hopes in a talent-laden Western Conference?
The good news for Warriors fans is that the early returns are in, and they're overwhelmingly positive. The team holds a two-and-a-half game cushion over the sixth-placed Utah Jazz. And they've already tallied victories over playoff hopefuls Denver, Atlanta, Dallas, Indiana, L.A. Clippers and Brooklyn (twice).
Point guard Stephen Curry (recent recipient of a four-year, $44 million contract extension) has played his best basketball as a professional. His scoring (20.0) is on pace for a new career high, despite the fact that the former Davidson star has yet to showcase the shooting ability that defined his first three NBA seasons. His 43.1 field-goal percentage is a career low, but his career mark of 46.8 percent suggests that he'll find his way out of this funk.
Curry's also lifted his assist totals to new heights (6.5 per game). He's even on pace to set a new career high in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2:1).
And he's been even better as of late, as pointed out here by Contra Costa Times reporter Marcus Thompson II.
After Curry and Lee, who is this team's most important player?
While David Lee hasn't topped his previous career bests, he is dispelling the notion that he pads stats on bad teams. His team is winning and his numbers are still impressive (18.8 points and 11.2 rebounds per game).
Warriors first-year GM Bob Myers has assembled a deep, capable bench that has either supported the starting group or even outplayed them on the starters' off nights. Veterans Landry and Jarrett Jack have paced the second unit (13.3 and 10.0 points per game, respectively), with both filling in as late-game closers when needed.
Granted, this Warriors group has yet to face the tough part of their schedule. And they'll continue to miss Bogut's presence on the interior with each game that the big man misses.
But it appears as if this Warriors team isn't in the running for just a postseason appearance, but a lengthy one at that. With Bogut, they're a shoo-in for at least a second-round appearance. Without him, they still have a good chance to get out of the first round.
If I could buy any higher on this club, I'd have to empty my savings account and seek a minority ownership stake.