|Lucky 13: After 12 years out of playoffs, Warriors basking in berth|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 19 April 2007 22:17|
``Who'd we play?'' Mullin asked Thursday, scratching his crewcut in mock confusion. ``Hey, 1994, that's a long time ago. ... I think we played pretty decent. I can't remember scores, obviously.''
The Warriors were swept in a first-round series with the Phoenix Suns that year before plunging into an abyss of losing and embarrassment - until Baron Davis, Jason Richardson and newcomers Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington led Golden State back to the postseason nearly 13 years later.
``It was a necessary step for us to take,'' said Mullin, now the Warriors' executive vice president of basketball operations. ``A small step, but very necessary for us to improve moving forward.''
Golden State (42-40) beat Portland on Wednesday night to clinch the eighth spot in the Western Conference and a first-round date with the Dallas Mavericks. After leading the celebration during an upbeat flight home, coach Don Nelson began preparations to face the mighty Mavs.
Nelson is no stranger to a poker game, and he knows he's playing with house money for the rest of the spring.
``It was a goal we had at the beginning of the season,'' Nelson said. ``It didn't look good for most of the season. We're one of the hottest teams in basketball at the end of the year, and we achieved a great deal. The guys in that room deserve all of the credit. They're not bad, by the way. We're not a great team, but we're pretty good.''
And it's about time. The Warriors' fans endured 620 losses, eight coaching changes and countless shifts in their organizational plan over the previous 12 seasons.
A few good players passed through, most notably Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Larry Hughes. They were far outnumbered by the washed-up veterans, flash-in-the-pan youngsters and an array of draft-pick disappointments from Joe Smith to Mike Dunleavy.
And that's just the recent history of a franchise that could measure its lousiness in geologic time.
In truth, Golden State hasn't done much to excite its fans since winning the NBA title in 1975 - still the only banner recognizing team success hanging in newly christened Oracle Arena.
After Rick Barry and rookie Keith Wilkes led that unlikely title team to a four-game sweep of heavily favored Washington, the Warriors reached the playoffs just seven times in the next 31 seasons.
They endured a 10-year drought between 1977 and 1987, when Sleepy Floyd's 51-point playoff performance against the Lakers produced a thrill - in a series Golden State lost in the next game. The ``Run T-M-C'' combination of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Mullin provided high-scoring thrills during its two seasons together, but won just one playoff series in 1991.
The Warriors also won first-round series in 1987 and 1989, but couldn't advance farther. Golden State hasn't won a playoff game since April 25, 1992.
But when Mullin took over the Warriors' basketball operations three seasons ago, he began to assemble a team that could play the uptempo game he enjoyed under Nelson's tutelage. When Nelson was available and willing to return last summer, Mullin jettisoned coach Mike Montgomery for a proven NBA winner who could command his players' respect.
``I'm happy for Coach Nellie,'' Davis said. ``People doubted him as a coach, like he couldn't turn this organization around. He's a pioneer in this league, and I don't think he gets enough credit.''
And when a moderately successful start stalled at midseason, Mullin made the move that saved Golden State's season. He got rid of Dunleavy and Troy Murphy - two underachievers with oppressive contracts - in an eight-player deal with Indiana for Jackson and Harrington, who brought veteran savvy and postseason experience to a team sorely lacking both.
``Once those guys came over, it was like, OK, now I'm finally on an NBA team,'' Richardson said.
When Davis and Richardson returned from injuries, the new-look Warriors closed the regular season on a 16-5 run, including nine wins in their last 10 games while surging past the Clippers. After two games in Dallas, the Warriors will host their first playoff game since 1994 on April 27.
``It's amazing to actually get the drought over,'' Richardson said at the Warriors' training complex. ``You usually come in here today for exit meetings and end-of-year physicals.''