OAKLAND — Mark Jackson was asked if he would be satisfied had he been told at the beginning of the season that the Warriors would be nine games over .500 by the All-Star break, and the coach said he wasn't really sure.
That's because the Warriors have had to fight through numerous injuries, treading water at times just to keep pace in the rough-and-tumble Western Conference and remain in line for a playoff berth.
But as the Warriors resume play Wednesday at Sacramento in seventh place in the conference after expectations skyrocketed due to a conference semifinals appearance last season, they know there is plenty of room to grow if they are to improve upon a 31-22 record.
“I'd probably look at it and say, 'OK, well, we held the fort down,' ” Jackson said of the first half of the season, listing off injuries to key players. “But when you look at the whole thing, we can be better, and we will be better.”
The expectations call for just that, with many of them having been placed on the Warriors by themselves. Stephen Curry, talking about the Warriors having lost three of five games this month, said the team was “underachieving” and that it was all “a little disappointing.” Co-owner Joe Lacob reiterated his expectation that the team would compete for a top-four spot in the Western Conference, and currently the Warriors are closer to missing the playoffs than achieving home-court advantage for a first-round playoff series.
The stretch drive offers opportunities for the Warriors not only to show they can be more consistent at home with 15 games left at Oracle Arena but also while facing Eastern Conference teams. They have 12 games left against teams in the East, some of which of late have gotten the Warriors to play down to their level. At one point, the Warriors play eight Eastern Conference teams in a row, including six on a 10-day trip beginning next week.
Veteran center Jermaine O'Neal is placing the burden on getting things done on himself and his teammates.
“There's 29 games left, and I've said all along that this team, we're going to be a reflection of what the players put into it,” O'Neal said. “I know it's been a lot conversation about Coach Jackson, and to me it's the most ridiculous thing I've heard, because at the end of the day, the players have to have a certain type of will.
“It's all will. It boils down to if you want it bad enough, you're willing to do whatever it is.”
Forward David Lee said a point of emphasis on offense as the team makes its run to the postseason was to cut down on turnovers, as the Warriors are second-to-last in the NBA averaging 15.8 of them per game. The Warriors average 103.6 points per game, but have given away opportunities for their opponents to overcome their hot shooting.
Even with a celebrated offense that is being asked by Jackson to stay aggressive, the Warriors are searching for ways to improve.
“We're ready to finish the season up playing the way we're capable, and that's our only focus right now,” said Lee, who is still not 100 percent from battling a sprained left shoulder and strained left hip.
“We were a LeBron James fadeaway jumper from being in sixth ... and easily could be in ninth. It's a logjam right there.”
On defense, there is cause for concern with the absence of Andrew Bogut, who is in his third straight week of dealing with a bone bruise that has caused inflammation in his left shoulder and has missed the past four games. Bogut told KNBR on Tuesday that he was probably a couple of days away from resuming play.
Missing the team's rim protector and top rebounder has been difficult, but still Jackson preaches a philosophy that publicly does not rely on making excuses.
“You've got to look at it as this is our group, and we have more than enough to take care of business,” Jackson said.
“Fully healthy, we're very happy with our team where we are. Fully healthy, we feel we can beat anybody, and we can compete, so that's my mindset. That's our mindset, and we've displayed that when we've been fully healthy.”
An 18-year NBA career nearly over without having yet won a championship, O'Neal said he was playing this final stretch with a surgically repaired right wrist as if it were his last chance. It takes some playoff teams years to grow into becoming championship-caliber, and O'Neal acknowledges that while saying he wouldn't have signed with Golden State had he felt they wouldn't have a chance.