Unlikely as it is to sustain momentum for four whole years, the Golden State Warriors are building something already.
Their new waterfront arena in San Francisco is planned for 2017. It will be a game-changer in every way, turning an admirable niche team in Oakland into a mainstream, marquee destination in San Francisco.
So it was a particularly interesting point that Warriors coach Mark Jackson insisted on making Monday night. Jackson’s team overwhelmed the Lakers in Oakland, and he wanted everyone to know that the story wasn’t just the Lakers losing.
The Warriors have been winning, and they deserve some respect for it:
It’s a message that was sent. I wanted my guys to understand that we are the better basketball team. We’ve played 72 games, and the survey says that we are the better basketball team. That can’t be debated through 72 games.
We were not going to come into this game on our heels. We respect them, and they have guys that will be in the Hall of Fame; I believe they have four of them. That being said, this is a different day and it’s a different basketball team.
Right now, the Warriors still have a blue-collar edge to them, even if they prefer to play offense to defense and swish three-pointers far more than they grind games out in the paint. They remain part of Oakland with this tremendously devoted fanbase, especially when compared to cities of similar size.
The game versus the Lakers marked the 25th consecutive sellout this season, the Warriors’ longest sellout streak since the renovation of Oracle Arena increased the building’s capacity from 15,025 to 19,596.
In most NBA cities, regular-season life is easily forgotten after whatever happens in the playoffs happens. But what the Warriors have had is the good stuff that comes out of the regular season: meaningful growth in young players, both individually and collectively, and estimable leaders such as Jackson and Jarrett Jack inspiring and teaching in a way that everyone touched by the experience will forever remember.
In all likelihood, the Warriors don’t defend well enough to beat anyone in the playoffs. Klay Thompson is a better defender than most know, but David Lee is undeniably awful, so there is a limit to how tough the Warriors can be inside. The dream of center Andrew Bogut getting healthier to the point that he truly recaptures his old shot-blocking presence remains fanciful for now.
Yet victories such as this one over the Lakers won’t soon be swept away. The Warriors now have 41 victories with 10 still to play, all but officially guaranteeing their status as a winning team in this 82-game season.
Yep, they are winners. That was Jackson’s point.
This is a winning team, and this is a winning season. In this context, that is something to be celebrated and appreciated.
Jackson knows how it works. He used to broadcast games for ABC and ESPN, and he knows how often he was dispatched to see the Lakers and hype the machine.
That’s why he had this perfect perspective to make sure everyone stopped to celebrate and appreciate the moment in time.
The Warriors are a long way from anyone tabbing them the Northern California edition of the high-profile, free-spending Lakers. If that’s the case for now, then embrace the underdog’s accomplishments.
By 2017 in San Francisco, life will be a lot more lavish. And that’s OK, too, because ultimately the opportunities for both relevance and championships will abound for fans on both sides of the bay then.
The Warriors also have a big splash lined up in 2014, when the contracts of Bogut, Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins expire and they can sign a big-time free agent to play with the fantastic Stephen Curry, Lee and Thompson.
Looking down that road, those guys will have learned a lot more about winning—but they will also be carrying with them some of the spirit the young Warriors are showing here in 2012-13.
Kevin Ding has been a sportswriter covering the NBA and Los Angeles Lakers for OCRegister.com since 1999. His column on Kobe Bryant and LeBron James was judged the No. 1 column of 2011 by the Pro Basketball Writers Association; his column on Jeremy Lin won second place in 2012. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Follow Kevin on Twitter @KevinDing.