The Golden State Warriors could not put away a Dallas Mavericks team missing its starting frontcourt (Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman) all night, but coach Mark Jackson's team made just enough plays down the stretch to eke out a 100-97 win on Thursday night.
For the Warriors, it was their 29th victory in 46 chances. It pushed them a half-game clear of the Denver Nuggets for sole possession of fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
And it hasn't been simply the level of success that's been impressive; it's been the way the team has gone about finding that success. No longer a gimmicky, defenseless offensive juggernaut, the Warriors are finding wins on both ends of the court.
It's something that many analysts are still adjusting to:
Still boggles my mind that the Warriors are good at winning ugly.— Eric Freeman (@freemaneric) February 1, 2013
With this all coming less than 12 months removed from an abysmal 23-43 season in Jackson's first season at the helm, how sustainable can this level of play actually be?
Well, like analysts have said all along, that answer still resides in the health of Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry.
After missing more than two months with a nagging ankle injury, Bogut has appeared in two of the past three Warriors games. He's still on a minute restriction (he played just over 25 minutes against the Mavericks) and won't try to play in back-to-back sets until after the All-Star break.
Even in limited exposure, though, he's shown the potential to transform this team from a feel-good story to a Western Conference contender.
The Warriors held the lead for the entire 48 minutes against the Mavericks, but Dallas had sliced its deficit to a single point in the waning moments. The Warriors needed a stop in the worst way, and the big man responded with a game-saving defensive stand, first closing a driving lane, then denying Brandan Wright with just six seconds left in the game:
Bogut aggressively attacked that Mayo drive away from rim, then recovered to make play on the opposite block. Impressive. Most impressive.— Beckley Mason (@BeckleyMason) February 1, 2013
While his passing and post production can take this Warriors offense to new heights, he'll make his biggest imprint on the defensive end. Rookie Festus Ezeli and reserve Andris Biedrins filled in admirably in Bogut's absence (for stretches at least), but neither brought the physical intimidation that the 7'0", 260-pound Bogut possesses.
But Bogut's not the only one with a frightening injury history.
Curry missed his second consecutive game after spraining his ankle against the Toronto Raptors on Monday night. It was the second time in as many weeks that he'd aggravated the surgically repaired ankle.
The Warriors are certainly in a better position to withstand Curry's absences with Jarrett Jack added to the fray over the offseason.
His 13-point, nine-assist effort against the Mavericks was simply another impressive showing for the veteran. He doesn't have Curry's consistency, but he's still a 40 percent shooter from deep and a crafty distributor.
With Klay Thompson capable of sharing the ball-handling responsibilities, the Warriors have enough playmakers to hold on to their lofty position in the conference standings. Considering that the Memphis Grizzlies just sent their top scorer (Rudy Gay) north of the border, they could even improve their playoff seeding.
But the Warriors' resurgence (or perhaps a better word might be emergence, considering the club's made just one playoff trip since 1993-94) has raised the level of expectations beyond a simple postseason berth.
Golden State can make do without Curry for the remainder of the regular season, but it'll need its (should have been) All-Star to carry it through any sort of sustained playoff run. His ability to create offense from any situation thrown his way is something unmatched by the rest of the roster.
With Curry out of the picture, the Warriors are clearly better than we thought they'd be, but a first-round exit appears likely.
If a healthy Curry and Bogut are leading the charge, though, this team is a nightmare matchup for any potential playoff opponent.
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