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OAKLAND -- Think about what life would be like if the world operated under the same principles as the Golden State Warriors. Hot fudge sundaes would be nutritious and help you lose weight. Whale-sized sport-utility vehicles would get 50 miles per gallon. "I Love New York" would be up for an Emmy.
The thing about the Warriors is they make no sense. Basketball at the professional level isn't supposed to work this way. In the mixed-up Warrior World, one-on-four pull-up jump shots are encouraged, not punished; a player who has been suspended six times is a source of inspiration and stability; and guys called Mully and Nellie are considered the masterminds of the operation.
The same blueprint that created the greatest playoff upset in NBA history has been rolled out again, and it has turned the Warriors into one of the league's hottest teams. They are the single greatest argument for ordering League Pass (and, for you East Coasters, picking up a case of Red Bull).
|In Nellie's system, players don't have to worry about making the shot -- they can just fire away.|
Take general manager Chris Mullin's explanation for how small ball can work.
On defense, "They can throw it in the post, we can go double and get it out of that guy's hands," Mullin said.
But at the other end, with a bunch of small players spreading the floor
"If you're a big guy, what do you do?" Mullin said. "You're going to come get me, then you're leaving somebody open by the basket."
-- Warriors guard Baron Davis
"It's a lot more organized than what it seems," Baron Davis said.
It starts with rule No. 1 from coach Don Nelson: Shoot the ball.
"He actually said, 'Don't worry about making it,'" Austin Croshere said. "You have to take that shot in order to get the defense to extend to open things up. It's within certain parts of our offense. To get the ball into the corner, you have to get that guy out there."
With an open floor, Davis or Stephen Jackson or Monta Ellis can drive by his man and get to the hoop. Andris Biedrins has room to score inside. He's not much of a true low-post option, so their inside-out game can come from the guard's penetration. They can suck in defenders and throw it back out for another 3-pointer -- the Warriors attempt a league-high 27 per game.
On Monday night against the Orlando Magic, Jackson took at least three shots that would get him benched on most squads. Warriors in transition, defenders back, no teammates inside the 3-point arc -- and Jackson just launched. No repercussions at all. Not even a dirty look.
"It's like playing at the YMCA," Jackson said. "You play your best game when you're not looking over your shoulder."I asked Nelson what he considers a bad shot. "One that doesn't go in," he said.
"What you see is a lot of freedom," Davis said. "You see everybody has an opportunity to be themselves.
"You come to this team, there's two things you're going to do: You're going to play hard, and you're going to have fun. That's what we do, and it shows out there on the floor."
They're having fun in the stands, too. The Warriors always provide one of the best arena experiences in the league, with a live band playing mellow Mary J. Blige and Michael Jackson tunes before tipoff, good tunes mixed in during the game and fans who do their part by cheering the hustle plays just as loudly as the big dunks.
And now the product matches the production. Mullin has done a good job of shedding the long-term, expensive contracts of Mike Dunleavy, Derek Fisher and Troy Murphy, while getting the right mix of players for this system, including guys who were unwanted or unsuccessful elsewhere. Matt Barnes' scoring average doubled last season, his first with the Warriors. Jackson got a fresh start after a tenure with the Indiana Pacers that was most notable for his throwing punches in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills and firing shots in the air after an altercation at a strip club.
|The Warriors are a much better team when Jackson is on the court.|
With the Warriors, he's a source of inspiration. He plays with confidence, and it spreads.
"The guys on my team know that, the best player on their team, I'm going to make him work," Jackson said.
The Warriors were 1-6 while he served a seven-game suspension for the shooting incident. Since he returned, they're 9-2. Going back to the end of last season, the Warriors have won 25 of their past 32 regular-season games in which Jackson has played.
The key phrase there is "regular season." As dramatic as their first-round victory over the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks was, the Utah Jazz's disciplined approach won out in the Western Conference semifinals. The Phoenix Suns are the only team playing a style similar to that of the Warriors, and their Steve Nash-led group hasn't reached the NBA Finals. No team coached by Nelson has, either.
Everyone's waiting for the percentages to catch up with the Warriors. Take enough outside shots, and eventually, you'll miss the majority of them. Go with a small lineup, and you'll sacrifice rebounds. Last year's magical run almost didn't happen; the Warriors didn't clinch a playoff spot until the last game of the season.
"We were an eighth seed," Mullin said. "But if we get in, we're dangerous."
They're the crazy guys. You don't take them that seriously at first. But you don't really want to mess with them.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.