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OAKLAND – All of his teammates, every one of them, have left when Jermaine O'Neal stands up to leave the Warriors locker room. It's late Sunday night, the team sage has someplace to go, but stops long enough to make an impassioned plea.
Please acknowledge the facts and notice the numbers, the 18-year veteran is saying.
Please understand that what the Warriors are doing this season is not and never has been typical of Warriors basketball.
Please consider all of this during criticisms directed at coach Mark Jackson and the Warriors, a long-suffering franchise playing winning basketball for the second consecutive season.
"I've thought about it and I feel very strongly about this," O'Neal said. "This city has suffered for many, many years. This city has only had four seasons in the history of this organization when it has won 50-plus games. So when you get an opportunity to appreciate . . . I just don't understand it."
O'Neal, who signed a free-agent contract to join his seventh team, is confused by ongoing negativity directed toward the Warriors by all branches of media and by a strangely dissatisfied segment of the fan base.
The consternation has increased in recent weeks, after the March 25 demotion of assistant coach Brian Scalabrine and the firing of assistant Darren Erman last Friday for what general manager described as a serious violation of company policy.
"We're 18, 19 games over .500 and nobody wants to talk about that," O'Neal said. "They want to talk about who got fired. People get fired every day in the workplace – every single day. So why is it such an issue? We don't know personally what went on. But it's not our position to sit and worry about it. It doesn't affect the outcome of games. I know these guys have families, and God bless them.
"But the show doesn't stop. If somebody gets hurt, the show doesn't stop. If somebody gets traded, the show doesn't stop. So why would the show stop if somebody gets fired? It baffles me that people would want to talk about this and not talk about a team that has a chance to be special, especially in this city."
The Warriors are 48-29, the first time since 1977 that they have surpassed the 45-win mark in consecutive seasons. They currently hold the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference, which has one of the three highest cumulative win percentages of any conference in NBA history.
The Warriors have responded to the loss of their two assistants with two of their most impressive performances of the season.
In their first game after Scalabrine's reassignment to D-League Santa Cruz, the Warriors reeled off consecutive points to overtake the streaking Memphis Grizzlie at Oracle Arena. One day after Erman was dismissed, they scored a season-high 130 points to beat the Utah Jazz by 28.
"We come together," said O'Neal, who is considering retirement at the end of the season. "We've done it all year. We try to perform and that's what it is. I guess the people who are negative, that want to sell papers and want to sell radio shows, will continue to do that. Evaluate our team at the end of the season. That's all I'm saying. We're talking about things that have nothing to do with the game.
"I commend my guys. I commend coach and his staff for coming in and not showing any weakness. I hear people talking about it. And I just think it's unfair. This is a special group.
"If at the end of the year, we didn't do what you feel like (we should have done), I get it. Call onto the radio stations. But right now, let's enjoy this, man, because we are."