Programming note: Coverage of Game 1 between the Warriors and Nuggets begins Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PT with Warriors Pregame Live on CSN Bay Area, followed by playoff basketball at 2:30.
DENVER -- The beauty of the Golden State Warriors fades pretty quickly the further you get from 66th Avenue, but not because nobody thinks they’re any good. That feeling is reserved for the poor Milwaukee Bucks, who get to take their 38 wins and try to coax another four out of the Miami Heat.
In fact, nobody is quite sure what the Warriors as a playoff team really are. The intricacy of the playoff matchup is rather lost on us because it’s been so long since such a thing has mattered. For too long, Warriors basketball has been an isolated form of entertainment, devoid of any greater context than the 82 games they are forced to play.
Thus, as there will be a period of adjustment for the Warriors as they tackle the same team for as many seven consecutive games, there will be a similar period for fans and observers as well. In short, the NBA will gain a greater (or lesser) appreciation of the newest kids on the block.
People around the country know Stephen Curry now, and some folks extend their knowledge to David Lee, the Warriors’ lone All-Star, and to Andrew Bogut, the occasional starting center. They certainly know Mark Jackson, the head coach and former ESPN analyst.
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But it’s not the personalities they don’t know, but the Warrior-ness of it all. They know the Warriors usually don’t get to Game 83, and that the last time they did, they had the perfect visual gimmicks – Baron Davis’ beard, and Mark Cuban’s slackjawed look at the end of the first round.
This team, though, is closer to the basketball norm – above average offensively, slightly below average though dramatically better defensively and a very good rebounding team. These are three things the Warriors rarely are, so they are reduced to “Man, Curry sure can shoot,” and “Hey, they’re new, aren’t they?”
This is about to end, starting Saturday. They are about to collide with the Denver Nuggets, and the Nuggets with them, and enough times so that their national mysteries will be solved, and their national identity will be formed.
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This isn’t for you Warrior fans, mind you. You’ve already doped out the Warriors, and are working on trying to make sense of the Nuggets without Danilo Gallinari but with Kenneth Faried and Andre Iguodala, and how George Karl uses his resources to come up with a 57-win team. You are going to know a lot about the Nuggets no later than Game 2, and their fans are going to get a very real idea of your team.
This is the great joy of a playoff series, especially with a team of which you have only been peripherally interested. You get to know everything that can be known in a short amount of time, and eventually you know them as you know your own.
It’s the rhythm of playoff basketball, where the world is reduced to your team and the team your team is playing. Denver is a more challenging task because the Nuggets are deeper than most teams, and because Karl is a master of the art of game-to-game adjustments. Thus, they will present the Warriors with different looks on different nights, making it difficult to know if Curry and Lee and Bogut and Klay Thompson, or any combination therein, will be able to assert themselves consistently.
The Warriors are still, ultimately, a work in progress. They are, as Jackson says at nauseam, a good basketball team. They also don’t know what they don’t know about being good when the schedule has only good teams on it. The Warriors finished 17-26 against playoff teams, and 8-20 after January 1. This might be the biggest reason why the nation isn’t sure what to make of them. Did they build their reputation on the underclass of which they were so recently a persistent member? Are they just an average team with a pretty face (Curry from three)? Or are they something dangerous for being so amorphous?
It’s all part of the exciting world of discovery that awaits the Warriors and their legion of reinvigorated fans, beginning tomorrow afternoon. What has been obscured will soon be revealed – for good, and ill.