OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -Never before has a 48-win NBA team been forced to prepare for the lottery instead of the playoffs the day after the season ended.
That's the predicament the Golden State Warriors are in this year, after their best season in 14 years wasn't enough to make it into the postseason in the power-packed Western Conference.
``We had an incredible year and I'm very proud of the team,'' coach Don Nelson said. ``We deserve to be a playoff team and we're not. So here we sit. We've had an incredible year.''
It just wasn't good enough. The Warriors overcame an 0-6 start during Stephen Jackson's suspension by winning 40 of their next 57 games to move into position for another playoff berth.
But the heavy minutes logged by stars Jackson, Baron Davis and Monta Ellis during that run paid a toll down the stretch. The Warriors (48-34) looked tired in the closing weeks of the season and stumbled to an 8-11 finish, losing twice to Denver in what ultimately decided the final playoff spot.
``This was a very successful season,'' forward Al Harrington said. ``We proved to be a better team than we were last year. We played in one of the most unusual, tough seasons in the history of the game. For a team to have 48 wins and not make the playoffs is crazy. That's just how it was this year. Our goal was 50. We thought 50 would get us in the playoffs.''
This season that's exactly what it took to make it to the postseason in the West. All eight playoff teams won at least 50 games, with the Nuggets (50-32) finishing two games ahead of Golden State for the final spot.
The Warriors have more wins than any team that failed to make the playoffs since the NBA expanded to the 16-team format in 1984. Houston held the previous mark of 45 wins in 2000-01. The only team ever to win more games without making the postseason was the 1971-72 Phoenix Suns, who went 49-33. But only four teams in each conference made the playoffs then.
What makes this miss even more painful is that Philadelphia (40-42) and Atlanta (37-45) are still playing despite having losing records in the weaker Eastern Conference.
So after becoming the first No. 8 seed to beat the top seed in a best-of-seven series in last year's upset of Dallas, the Warriors have to settle for a different kind of historical mark this season.
``We're definitely upset about not making the playoffs,'' Jackson said. ``But we made a lot of strides from last year to this year and we had our best record in 14 years. What can we complain about but not making the playoffs. We'll take it as a goal and keep moving.''
The Warriors enter the offseason full of uncertainties, starting with the 0.5 percent chance they will win the lottery next month and get the top pick despite their impressive record.
Nelson said he'll decide by about July 1 whether to return for the third season on his contract. Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins are restricted free agents, although team executive vice president Chris Mullin told reporters he will definitely match any offer to bring those two back.
Matt Barnes, Mickael Pietrus and Patrick O'Bryant are all unrestricted free agents, and Kelenna Azubuike can opt out of his contract.
The most intriguing decision revolves around Davis, who is owed about $17 million if he stays for the final year of his contract. He said he wants to remain with the Warriors, but hinted he would like an extension.
``I want to come back,'' Davis said. ``There's no doubt in my mind that I want to come back. We'll wait and see what happens. Hopefully something positive happens.''
As well as keeping players, Mullin will also try to add a few pieces. The Warriors are counting on more contributions from Brandan Wright, Marco Belinelli and Kosta Perovic, who all struggled to earn Nelson's trust as rookies.
Nelson wants more depth so he won't have to rely so heavily on high-scoring trio of Davis, Jackson and Ellis - the first teammates to all average 20 points a game in a season since 1990-91. Nelson said the group he has now is not good enough to compete for a championship.
``I think we've already proven we can't do that,'' he said. ``We need some help. We need some areas in which we need to continue to grow and improve. ... We need to get deeper for sure. And better.''

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