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 OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -The Golden State Warriors had just begun celebrating a blowout win over Utah this week when somebody pulled the fire alarm at Oracle Arena.
The sirens didn't have a prayer of drowning out the boisterous behavior in a locker room that hasn't been this much fun in at least 13 years.
The Warriors just laughed and shouted even louder as Stephen Jackson skipped into the room, shouting gleefully to his teammates: ``Oh, no! They don't want us to make the playoffs!''
Neither a fire alarm nor a half-generation of regrettable history has prevented the Warriors from surging into the playoff race for the first time since 1994. After 12 miserable losing seasons, the Warriors (38-40) are clinging to eighth place in the Western Conference standings, battling to hold off the Clippers (37-40) and Hornets (37-41).
No matter the outcome of the regular season's final week, the Warriors are reveling in finally being relevant during the NBA's longest stretch out of the playoffs. With a recycled coach and a revamped roster, Don Nelson's team has given basketball-crazy Oakland a reason to be excited in April, even if its lovable losers fall short again.
``It's a great feeling, especially for this city that hasn't been in there for a while,'' said forward Al Harrington, one of the Warriors' four midseason acquisitions in a fruitful trade with Indiana. ``They're ready. They're definitely ready for us to play somebody in the first round. We've just got to keep our focus on these last four games and not get too excited.''
The Warriors haven't even been among the conference's top eight teams this late in the season since their last trip to the playoffs during Nelson's first term in charge. Golden State is a collective 288 games under .500 since 1994, never winning more than 38 games in a season.
And the playoffs still are no sure thing this year. The Clippers will hold the edge if a tiebreaker is necessary, so the Warriors know they'll need help from Los Angeles' opponents - and New Orleans is lurking, too.
But the Hornets pushed the Warriors into eighth place by beating the Clippers in overtime Tuesday night while Jason Richardson sweated out the result on his couch at home.
``That was the first time I ever watched a game and cheered for a team,'' said the swingman, a six-year veteran steeped in his only club's losing culture.
Most franchises wouldn't be quite so eager for what's likely to be a brief first-round playoff matchup with the Dallas Mavericks, one of the best regular-season teams in league history. Yet it would mean the world to the Warriors, who are beyond weary of early summers highlighted by pingpong balls, excuses and new plans to escape the cycle of misery.
``It's important to take that next step this season,'' said point guard Baron Davis, who has led Golden State to 12 wins in his 16 games since returning from knee surgery. ``Nobody is worried about stats. Nobody is getting caught up in personal accolades. We know that if we make the playoffs, this city is going to love everybody on this team, one through 15.''
The Warriors weren't always an embarrassment to the Bay Area or Philadelphia, their former home where the club became one of the NBA's three remaining charter franchises. Those Warriors won the league's first championship in 1947, and Rick Barry led Golden State to the 1975 title.
But the Warriors have participated in just five of the last 29 postseasons, and haven't won a playoff round since 1991. Golden State went through eight coaches since Nelson left during the 1994-95 season, but his return - and the entertaining, up-tempo game plan he installed - has erased the bad taste from his contentious departure.
``Considering everything that's transpired this year, it's probably one of my better coaching jobs,'' Nelson said. ``It was way harder than I thought.''
When the Warriors lost six straight games shortly after the All-Star break, they seemed doomed to an early summer yet again. After a loss in Chicago on Feb. 28, Nelson acknowledged the playoffs probably were out of reach for his injury-plagued, 26-33 club.
But Davis returned two games later, teaming with Harrington and Jackson to form a veteran core. Richardson regained most of his strength after offseason knee surgery, while youngsters Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins continued their emergence as burgeoning stars.
The Warriors closed in while the Clippers foundered, setting up a tantalizing final stretch. Golden State's remaining schedule is favorable, starting with Friday's visit to Sacramento. None of the Warriors' four remaining opponents - three nonplayoff teams and Dallas - has much to gain from a victory.
``I think the guys are focused,'' Nelson said. ``They're playing the best they have all year. Our team goal was to be in the hunt and have a shot at it. Everything has kind of come together, and if we go down, we go down swinging.''
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