Warriors look to continue eastern dominance vs. Bulls

Warriors look to continue eastern dominance vs. Bulls
January 25, 2013, 11:45 am
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Curry ranks eighth in the NBA at 20.9 points per game and second in the league in three-pointers made but was not selected as a reserve for this year's Western Conference All-Star team. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Jarrett Jack’s home is in the back right corner of the Golden State Warriors locker room.

It’s from that perch where he chaperones the players sanctuary, shepherding the younger guys and chirping witticisms to keep things loose.

At 29 years old, Jack is a veteran on a Warriors team stacked with youth – and he leads with the widest of grins.

“Everybody that calls me, they might say you’re playing well, but they really just say, ‘you look happy,’” Jack told Comcast SportsNet from his residence in the locker room following Wednesday night’s win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“This is just amazing,” Jack said. “It’s a ton of fun playing with these guys, the way we play, and the camaraderie we have with one another. There’s nothing fake or forced about it. It’s just a tremendous thing.”

He said, “without question,” he’s having the most fun of his career, save for the joy of being a rookie in 2005-06 with the Portland Trail Blazers when he said he was just enamored to have made the NBA.

In that moment at his locker, Jack had plenty to be happy about. The Warriors (26-15) had just knocked off the league’s best record, the Thunder, just two days after defeating the Pacific Division leaders, the Los Angeles Clippers.

“Oh my goodness, they just don’t understand,” Jack said. “They don’t understand, man, they don’t understand how big of a game that was, how big of a win that was.”

The veteran in his eighth season, who in that moment was overflowing with joy, is averaging 12.5 points in 28.5 minutes per game off the bench.

At the halfway point of the Warriors season, Jack has to be in the running for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Unlike the award’s consensus front-runner, Clippers reserve guard Jamal Crawford, Jack is more than just a scorer.

Despite coming off the bench, Jack’s 5.6 assists per game ranks 21st in the NBA. He also averages 3.3 rebounds per game.

But more than individual success and a good time, Jack could be on his way back to the postseason. Jack has only made the playoffs once in his career, just one round with the New Orleans Hornets in 2010-11 that ended with a first-round, six-game series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Golden State is 11 games over .500 and currently holds the fifth spot in the Western Conference at the halfway point of its schedule.

Tonight, they face the Chicago Bulls, owners of the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Here are the three biggest questions heading into tonight’s game:

How will Stephen Curry respond to his All-Star snub?

It would be a shame if Stephen Curry’s snub on Thursday as one of seven Western Conference All-Star reserves overshadows David Lee’s selection as the first Warriors player named to the team since Latrell Sprewell in 1997.

But controversy is always more provocative.

Curry, who ranks eighth in the NBA at 20.9 points per game and second in the league in three-pointers made, has received more attention than Lee for not being named to the team.

Curry could still be named as replacement if a current Western Conference player does not play due to injury.

But tonight, will Curry come out with a chip on his shoulder, lighten up or simply continue pushing toward Golden State victories?

Lee, on a conference call from Chicago on Tuesday, credited his teammate for his success.

"I'm really excited to make it, but it's really bittersweet right now because we've been the leaders of this team all year long and I think one of the main reasons that I made it in and that we both had a good shot is because of the team's record," Lee said.

Lee acknowledged that the national attention for the Warriors is based off having a winning team and beating teams they weren’t supposed to beat.

“It’s been a longtime for the Bay Area fans not only to have an all-star but to have a winning team,” Lee said.

What will this difficult stretch of schedule reveal?

The Warriors’ challenging stretch in January comes to an end through the first two games of this Eastern Conference road trip. Of Golden State’s 12 opponents in January, 11 have a record of .500 or better.

After losing five of the first seven games of the difficult beginning to the January schedule, the Warriors have now won three consecutive games.

Wins on the stretch have included two against the division-leading Clippers, the league-best Thunder, the Portland Trail Blazers and the New Orleans Hornets, the only sub .500 team of the stretch.

The Warriors play tonight at Chicago before finishing the 12-game test in Milwaukee against Monta Ellis and the Bucks. The second half of the trip is at two of the East’s worst records, the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers.

How will the Warriors handle Chicago’s interior?

The Warriors have struggled against teams that can play physical in the paint, and the Bulls frontcourt features two All-Stars and one of the Eastern Conference’s biggest All-Star snubs.

Both Luol Deng and Joakim Noah were selected as reserves for the East.

Deng is a top-level defender and Chicago's leading scorer, averaging 17.4 points and 6.4 rebounds. Bulls center Joakim Noah, averaging 12.2 points and 10.9 rebounds, is one of the league's best interior defenders.

Power forward Carlos Boozer was not selected, but he is averaging 16.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

Quirky note

The Warriors are 13-3 against the Eastern Conference this season and a flawless 12-0 when you don’t count games played against teams from Florida (0-2 to the Orlando Magic and 1-1 to the Miami Heat).

Follow @jimmypspencer on Twitter for more Warriors news and analysis.