After being unable to turn around the franchise in his first year as coach, Mark Jackson has guided the Golden State Warriors to a 25-15 start to the new season and they are currently jockeying for a playoff seed for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
Warriors players have attributed the turnaround to their second-year coach’s attitude and ability to motivate. "He keeps the locker room fresh with enthusiasm, and he's got a real good way of motivating guys," said Stephen Curry to the San Francisco Chronicle's Rusty Simmons.
The Golden State Warriors have already surpassed their total wins from the previous season and are currently the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.
Let's take a look at the keys to watch as they make a playoff push.
Warriors star Stephen Curry has bounced back from a season-ending ankle injury last season and is a main contributor to the Warriors' fast start this season, but his health remains a cause for concern.
The 24-year-old guard is having the best year of his young career, averaging 20.1 points and 6.6 assists per game while hitting 46.4 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Curry has suffered multiple ankle sprains over the last three seasons and underwent surgery to repair torn ligaments in May 2011 and April 2012. He recently sat out two games after re-injuring the ankle during shootaround, according to Mercury News' Marcus Thompson II.
Curry has since returned to the court and played his regular minutes, but his ability to stay healthy is vital to a successful playoff appearance for the Warriors, as he leads them in points, assists and steals per game.
The Warriors have managed a great start to the season with Festus Ezeli and Carl Landry at center, but the return of Andrew Bogut could push them to the next level with his scoring and defensive abilities.
The 7'0", 260-pound center was acquired by Golden State from the Milwaukee Bucks in March 2012 for Monta Ellis and others. In his career with the Bucks, Bogut averaged 12.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game while shooting 52.2 percent from the field.
There is no timetable for Bogut’s return, as management has stated it will not rush him back.
“I think it's the right thing to do, to let him – without any pressure – work hard to make sure that he's 100 percent when he comes back, and we have the luxury of doing that since we've been playing well,” said Warriors owner Joe Lacob to USA Today’s Sam Amick.
During the press conference announcing the hire of Mark Jackson as head coach, he stated “We are going to be a defensive-minded basketball team first and foremost” and he has delivered this season.
The Warriors rank sixth in the league in rebounding differential (plus-2.8) and sit in a six-way tie for second in average opponents' field-goal percentage (43.4 percent) per game. They were 28th and 20th, respectively, in those categories last year, according to USA Today, but there is room for improvement.
The Warriors rank 22nd in points allowed with 99.4 points a game. That’s only a plus-1.2 deferential from the average amount of points scored by the team. Perhaps this Warriors squad, which starts two rookies and a sophomore, just needs more games to gel together.
Curry and company have 22 games remaining at home against some top teams and others fighting to make the playoffs. With teams only a few games behind the Warriors in the standings, winning home games should be a top priority for Mark Jackson.
Golden State currently has a 13-6 record at home. It is imperative that the Warriors win their remaining home games against teams like the Mavericks, Lakers and Rockets to avoid losing their place in the standings.
Winning games on the road is important, but home losses can deflate the confidence of a team and fanbase alike.
Joe Lacob and Warriors management have invested a significant amount of money and time in order to improve the organization since the acquisition in 2010. Management once again might make a move before the February 21st NBA trade deadline.
With the return of Andrew Bogut not guaranteed, Curry’s ankle injury setback and a very young starting five, it’d be in the best interest of the team to add veteran experience, bench depth and/or top talent.
The Warriors definitely have the young pieces and future draft picks at their disposal.
Warriors brass has proven it isn't willing to wait a long time for results when it avoided a ballot measure to seek public funding for the team's new stadium in San Francisco because it would take too long, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Perhaps a trade is the last piece of the puzzle.