Monday April 30th, 2007

I should have believed him.

A few weeks before the playoffs started, I had a chance to interview Warriors star Baron Davis. Towards the end of our conversation, I asked him the obligatory what-do-you-guys-need-to-contend question.

"Nothing," says Davis.

Can you expound upon that Baron?

"We don't need a thing," he said, the defiance evident in his voice. "Just time. There are a lot of young guys on this team and we just need a little more time to gel."

It was easy to dismiss Davis's statement as PR-coated blather. At the time, the Warriors were just entering the playoff picture and still needed to leapfrog both the Hornets and the Clippers just to get into the postseason. While they clearly matched up well with the Mavericks (Golden State is the only team in the league to have won a season series against the Mavs in each of the last two seasons), there was no guarantee they were going to get there.

Yet here they are, not only in the postseason but on the brink of securing one of the biggest upsets in NBA playoff history, having taken a 3-1 series lead after Sunday's 103-99 win. Truthfully, we shouldn't be surprised. Golden State was 16-5 down the stretch against statistically the toughest schedule in the NBA. They took wins against Houston, Phoenix and two against Dallas.

"And they set their rotation," says an Eastern Conference scout. "That's when you saw the real Warriors, after they incorporated Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington into the lineup and Baron Davis recovered from the knee injury."

Still, that doesn't explain the unequivocal success Golden State has had against Dallas. For that, we go to the bullet points:

• No Fear: A lot of teams are intimidated by the Mavericks. They are big (Erick Dampier, DeSagana Diop), fast (Devin Harris, Jason Terry) and can score (Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, Terry). Combine that with a defensive mentality instilled by Avery Johnson and many teams go up against Dallas expecting to lose. Not the Warriors. What they see in Dallas is a team filled with weaknesses, not the least of which is their inability to play with anything other than a traditional lineup. Nowitzki, the favorite for the league's MVP award, has struggled when guarded by smaller yet stronger players and hasn't reacted well to swarming double-teams. If nothing else, the Warriors have shown there is a blueprint for defending the Mavericks.

• Keeping it Basic: Remember what basketball was like on the playground? Go to the hole -- if the shot's there, take it; if not, kick the ball out to an open teammate. For all the talk of Don Nelson's unorthodox coaching style, the Warriors offense is a study in simplicity. Middle penetration is the ideal outcome for NBA coaches; if they thought their guards could get to the basket anywhere nearly as effectively as Davis has this series, they would toss out the rest of the playbook. If Dallas can't stop the most basic of plays, why fool around with anything else?

Someone asked me recently if I thought this Warrior team was built only to defeat Dallas. I don't. Outside of San Antonio (who Golden State lost to twice at the end of the regular season) I think Golden State matches up well with anyone in the Western Conference, including potential second-round opponents Utah or Houston. While the Warriors aren't out of the first round yet, if they do advance, don't expect this Cinderella ride to end anytime soon.

Looks like this will be Lindsey Hunter's last hurrah in Detroit. Hunter, one of the genuine good guys in the NBA if not all of sports, has an offer on the table to join the Pistons front office after the season and says he is likely to take it. Hunter has been a valuable role player throughout his 14-year career. He averaged 9.0 points and 2.8 assists while collecting championship rings with the Lakers and Pistons. The NBA needs more players like Hunter and if he does choose to retire, he will be missed.

Another soon-to-be retiree is Cavaliers guard David Wesley. Things haven't worked out exactly as Wesley expected in Cleveland. After averaging 9.9 points (in 33.4 minutes per game) with Houston last season, Wesley averaged 2.1 points in 10.1 minutes with the Cavaliers. He also appeared in just 35 games this season (down from 71 with the Rockets) and was a frequent member of the inactive list. While Wesley, who carved out a 14-year career after going undrafted out of Baylor, had no desire to play the kind of minutes he did in Houston, he had hoped for a larger role with Cleveland. "I'd like to get into coaching," says Wesley. "College or pro. It's something I've always been interested in."

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