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The Golden State Warriors need to be credited for making their latest march to the playoffs (in an ongoing series of two) as weird as possible. Why, it’s as if they were the New York Knicks.
Only with wins.
As the locals achieved their two main goals for the regular season -- winning 50 games and keeping Stephen Curry’s ankles from falling off -- the sense of relief is palpable. That’s relief, as opposed to, say, joy, which is what a team with no playoff pedigree in the past 38 years would normally feel.
Indeed, after having shown their defense at its very best in a 130-120 home win against the modest Minnesota Timberwolves, the Warriors brought it all home for display, as in:
• Make playoffs. Good.
• Have to play a difficult team in the first round. Not so good.
• Have Curry as the focal point of the happy times, as it was in the past with Baron Davis and before that with Run TMC. The audience loves that stuff. Good.
• Lose center Andrew Bogut for the playoffs, unless they make it to the Finals. This time, ribs, as opposed to back, knee, or whatever else he accumulated in this, his NASCAR season. Bad.
• Get David Lee back. Good.
• Get David Lee back at less than 100 percent, which is where he will remain this season. Bad.
• Slap another progress report on head coach Mark Jackson. Good, at least until it’s bad.
• Do it after reassigning one assistant coach and firing a second in the last month. Bad.
• Fill the arena each night, Good.
• Fill the wrong arena in the wrong city, if you ask Joe Lacob. Bad.
• Make Lacob grimace at little bit less at courtside. Yes.
• Not make him smile constantly. Bad.
• And in all things, on all days, become an unfettered triumph and steaming disaster all in one cheery package. Nailed it.
It just depends on how you view the glass -- as half-full of the finest wine, or half-full of the most tubercular spit.
What happened to the Warriors this year, frankly, was a bad case of inflated expectations born of euphoria and the death of the Los Angeles Lakers. The local media saw this as an improved but still second-tier team, which they turned out to be. The national media saw them as the new item on the menu, and some even picked them to go to the Finals, which they will not. And Lacob apparently thought they not only would win the title, but also win the Stanley Cup, La Liga, the Nobel Prize in Physics and Best Supporting Actor -- which is why sitting directly across from Jackson 41 nights a year has turned him into the team’s living mood ring. Indeed, with the owner showing so many exposed nerves at any given time, it’s an amazement that he has any room on his exterior for actual skin.
And now they head to the postseason on three wheels, to face either a difficult matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers, a difficult matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder, or a difficult matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. And they do so without a full roster. And they do so with a coach who is apparently supported by almost all his players, half the customer base and almost none of the important front office people.
In other words, the first 50-win team the franchise has seen since the early days of the Clinton Administration is playing for its coach’s job, the pleasure of its mercurial owner, and a fan base that doesn’t know whether it’s coming, going or stranded in a roadside ditch.
If that isn’t the historical Knicks, I don’t know what is.
The Knicks, you see, are fueled by angst, in both the good times (a year ago) and bad ones (like now). Like the Warriors, they are fueled by the powers of one player (Carmelo Anthony). Like the Warriors, they turn every game into a referendum on the coach (Mike Woodson, at least for the next few hours). Like the Warriors, they think they are an elite operation when the evidence for such a claim is largely mythical.
But unlike the Warriors, the Knicks today know they will be run by a new sheriff who actually excites them, Phil Jackson. The Warriors aren’t sure what to expect, why, or when. That is no way for a 50-win team to be.
Circumstances are a king-hell bitch, though. The Warriors needed every one of those 50 wins just to make the playoffs, making the goal of 50 wins the equivalent of finishing eighth. They needed every one of those 50 wins to save, for the moment anyway, Jackson’s job.
In sum, these are happy times that stink on ice. A march to glory that looks an awful lot like the Second Battle of Ypres. Proof that the Warriors have turned the corner while being confronted by a cul-de-sac. If it weren’t for the all-enveloping pixie dust of Curry and his Felix-The-Cat Bag O’Tricks, they’d be . . . well, the Warriors of most of the past three-and-a-half decades.
And yet this is the best team they’ve had in years, so cheer up. The best, and worst, is yet to come.