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OAKLAND – The Warriors have a roster filled with nice young men of faith that have, as far as we know, sterling character. Their defining characteristic, collectively, is politeness.
Politeness does not win NBA championships, no matter the talent.
In this league, toughness is a requirement of success. A team with talent but lacking toughness is destined to see its “ceiling” drop, often on the head of the coach.
Politeness and visible talent, which the Warriors have, merely tease and tantalize, excite and exasperate. The combination tricks and it treats in any order it pleases. Ultimately, with few exceptions, it breaks the hearts of those with deepest desire.
And the richer the talent insulated by all that politeness, the louder the bewilderment that accompanies the heartbreak.
If the Dubs were tougher, mentally and physically, they don't lose four distinctly winnable home games over the past three weeks. There wouldn't be such anxiety about inconsistency, because the inconsistency derives from the toughness void.
They have in Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green and Jermaine O'Neal, three guys who toughness is beyond question. Stephen Curry is a star who is tougher than he looks but doesn't play every game with that chip that drove him from lightly regarded prep to NBA All-Star.
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Everyone else rarely seems to summon the kind of anger that puts teammates on constant alert and opponents on their heels.
Asked about his team's toughness, Bogut described it as “game to game.” He's right. The record is the evidence and also an indictment of the Warriors' collective will.
The Warriors and their management and their fans are utterly perplexed after losing yet another game, on their home court, to an inferior team. On Tuesday, it was the Bobcats, who have four or five players who could make the Warriors roster, one and maybe two who could compete for the starting lineup. Yet they came into Oracle Arena and took the Warriors' lunch, took their iPods and iPads, their Rolexes and Tags, their shoes and socks and shorts.
[REWIND: Instead of exacting revenge, Warriors fall hard]
The Bobcats didn't do anything several others – including unexceptional squads Washington and Minnesota and Denver – haven't done in recent weeks. Basically slap the Warriors down and step over them on the way out.
This is, on paper, the same Warriors team that has beaten the defending champion Heat and the Thunder and the Trail Blazers and the Clippers and the Suns.
The same team that swaggered through a 10-game win streak over the holidays.
“That rollercoaster ride is such fool's gold,” O'Neal said. “We tend to feel good when things are going great, then we relax a little bit. That's the difference between teams that are great and teams that are trying to be great.
“You have to believe you're the baddest you-know-what every night you step on the court. Whether you are or not, you've got to believe that because that mentality within itself gives you an opportunity to win that game every night.”
Coach Mark Jackson acknowledges that his team has provided reasons to question its toughness. He believes his roster is tough, but would welcome it immediately.
“It's a process,” he said. “And that's the thing you can't ignore as a fan, as a player, as a coach. You can't ignore it. You can try to rush it, but it is what it is. You don't want to overreact. We're in a good place. We certainly haven't done what we want to do. We've given away games. We haven't played our best. But we like where we are, and we like the direction that we're headed in.”
Jackson and O'Neal and Bogut have been around the league long enough to note how teams develop through defeat. How they get slapped down and get up. Bogut can recite the playoff histories – the ongoing progressions and, thus far, eventual failures – of teams like the Pacers and Thunder.
Indiana, featuring David West, is not a polite team. And OKC, from the look in Kevin Durant's eye, has developed competitive “scar tissue” that makes it tougher by the hour.
The Warriors, coming off their first playoff appearance since 2007, are not there. They're not really close. And they can't get really close without finding their inner destroyer, their “raw dog.”