Under the radar may be an understatement. But it’s understandable, really. Just looking around the landscape for the sports loving nut out there right now and you see why a story, a team, can fall through the cracks. You’ve got the NFL — with six huge, possibly division-deciding, games coming in mid-December even — the college football bowl season starting — culminating with Notre freakin’ Dame v. Ala-freakin-bama — and a pretty decent baseball hot stove season — with seemingly a trade or trade rumor rolling just about every day.
So, you may not have noticed there is something of a Cinderella story developing in the National Basketball Association. Yes, it’s not even Christmas yet, but one team is attempting to turn around decades of misfortune, misfires, and missed chances. A team who’s fan base may be the most tortured in all of sports, yet no one on the national scene even thinks of them when talking tortured sports souls — which probably proves just how tortured they really are.
But this team no one can see has won five straight games. Check that, this team has won five straight road games. And yes, that includes tomato cans like Detroit and Washington, but this team has also won at Brooklyn, the new “it” team, and at defending champion Miami. And that’s just the five games, this Super Sneaky Cinderella has also won at Dallas — a sneaky good, very tough team — and at Minnesota, along with a couple of big home wins over Atlanta and Denver.
The win over the Heat is easily the jumping off point, though. Playing its third game in six days, against a team with Dwayne Wade and LeBron James, these Mighty Mites were in the game the entire way. This big win wasn’t after falling behind by 20 and using Garbage Time to get an ugly win. No, this was a toe-to-toe slug fest won by the team that absolutely deserved to win it.
OK, so maybe with thoughts of RGIII and Josh Hamilton’s new address dancing in your head you’re drawing a blank on this red-hot off the map mystery team. So let’s move on to a more national story: NBA MVP. Who ya got? Again, it’s early, but certainly there has been a ton of talk about MVP — Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, James, Chris Paul.
But what if I told you this team no one knows about had its own legit MVP contender? A player leading the team in scoring (19.5), assists (6.5), and steals (1.7). This is someone who has increased game averages across the board in the last nine games. It’s no coincidence that his team is 8 – 1 during that time, too
Give up? Well, this team that’s gone from the historical outhouse to the penthouse is… Golden State. Yup, Golden State.
Mark Jackson’s team started slow, opening with losses to Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers. And things didn’t get too much better from there, but over the last month, the Warriors have caught fire. A combination of athleticism and good ole fashion toughness. The Warriors, with speed and length, are a tough match up for most teams on any given night.
And the improved play of forward David Lee, averaging 19 points and 11 boards per game, and continued development of Klay Thompson (16 points per) are big reasons the Warriors are now fighting for top tier status out west. Plus, Carl Landry is bringing over 12 points a game off the bench and Jarred Jack — Jarred Jack! — is adding ten more points per game off the bench and providing some valuable, dare I say, leadership.
It’s an incredibly quick turnaround, but there’s little reason to believe things can’t keep going in the right direction in the Bay. Especially if Stephen Curry keeps playing at an MVP caliber. Curry, who’s reportedly finally healthy after battling major ankle injuries for years, has become a go to on offense for Jackson. Actually, Curry’s ability to set up others while also getting his own is very Jackson-eske.
And despite something of a clunker against the Heat — 4 for 10 for 9 points (although Curry did dole out 7 assists) — there’s a definite correlation between the Warriors’ current win streak and Curry’s accession to team leader/play-maker. Playing point is never easy, especially with something of a hybrid team like the Warriors, a team that doesn’t have truly defined positions with players like Lee, but Curry is doing yeoman’s work. In fact, he’s averaging just two turnovers a game during the team’s recent hot streak.
Tough to believe though, right? Given Golden State’s history of losing. A franchise that has found more ways than one to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Most Warriors fans consider their team’s glory days to be when Golden State would battle to win a playoff series. The RUN TMC days, the early days of Chris Webber. Even the unlikely upset of the top seeded Mavericks in 2007. Those make for good stories, fond memories, but in the end all of those teams lost their final games.
But there is something different here, and it’s not just about the win in Miami. A team of many different parts is coming together. Flashy players, brute force, good coaching. Why not believe? History says it won’t last long, but over the last month, our eyes are telling us something different. Our eyes are telling us the west may still be Oklahoma City’s to lose, but the Thunder will be battling teams like Memphis, the Clippers, and Golden State to regain the conference crown.
So to buy into the Warriors because its won some games in December is tough to do. Especially when it’s so easy to forget Golden State is even on the sports map. What with so many other options to choose from — NBA or otherwise. But the Warriors, with its exciting lineup, tough coach, and MVP candidate, are legit. At least, as legit as any team can prove itself at this point in the season.