Ben Margot/APCenter Andrew Bogut (12) is one of the biggest keys to the Warriors success this year

After last season’s playoff run, Warriors facing heightened expectations

As the Warriors prepare to tip off the 2013-14 season Wednesday, there is something new in the air in Oakland. No, it's not the stench of O.co Coliseum's archaic sewage system drifting over to Oracle Arena, but rather a buzz around the Warriors.

Not the cheap-bottle-of-Champagne kind of buzz, but the good stuff. The 90-proof kind of buzz. The buzz of an NBA team with genuine expectations of contending for a Western Conference title.

If Year 1 of the Mark Jackson era was one small step, Year 2 was one giant leap for Warrior-kind after an inspired playoff run that ended in six hold-on-to-your-seat games against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.

Guard Stephen Curry emerged as a bona fide star, Andrew Bogut showed his value when healthy and the Warriors proved they can overcome adversity by weathering David Lee's injury in the playoffs.

There is more optimism about the team's future now than there was after the 2006-07 playoff appearance. That Don Nelson-coached team was like a one-night stand: fun while it lasted, but with no staying power.

This group has all the makings of a long-term relationship.

The core nucleus of Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Lee and Bogut will be intact for at least the next couple of years. The Warriors also added one of the marquee names on the market in the offseason with swingman Andre Iguodala, who should provide a scoring punch as well as a huge upgrade to the team's perimeter defense.

The Western Conference appears ripe for the picking. Oklahoma City will be without Russell Westbrook for at least the start of the season, Houston has to find cohesion with drama queen Dwight Howard now in the mix, the Los Angeles Clippers have yet to prove they can get over the hump in the playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies lack offensive firepower, the Spurs are a year older and the Los Angeles Lakers have Kobe Bryant still rehabbing from a torn Achilles tendon.

There's no reason to think the Warriors can't be right in the thick of things.

Before going too far on the Warriors' hype train, it must be pointed out that it won't take much for the whole thing to derail. A Curry turned ankle here or a Bogut back injury there, and the Warriors could be in a heap of trouble.

The Warriors still must iron out the kinks in their rotation for a roster that essentially has six starters. The bench is an unknown, as well. Invaluable reserves Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry are gone, and in their stead Draymond Green, Jermaine O'Neal, Toney Douglas and Marreese Speights will be counted on.

But injury and depth concerns aside, the Warriors have lofty expectations, and for good reason. For a team that has said it is targeting at least 50 wins in the regular season, simply making the playoffs is not enough. The Warriors need to make some noise in the postseason for this season to be considered a success.

For a franchise that has made just two playoff appearances in the past 20 years, it's a refreshing change to finally be in a golden state.

Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at dkruse@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @dylan_kruse.

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