Exactly one year ago today, the Warriors were getting ready to play a road game against the Detroit Pistons after losing a heartbreaker to the Washington Wizards.
That defeat dropped the Warriors to 26-35 and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they would be 10 games under .500 by the time the Pistons game was done. It was shaping up to be another playoff-free season for the Warriors.
But something head-scratching happened at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Warriors blew out the Pistons 111-93, setting up an unforeseen 16-5 finish that would propel them into the postseason — and beyond.
After Tuesday’s win over Atlanta, the Warriors are 53-27 in the regular season since that Wizards game. Let that record sink in for a moment: 53-27.
In terms of NBA turnarounds, that’s as dramatic as it gets.
Now, a year later, it’s time to sort out the reasons why it happened:
» Baron Davis’ health. For five straight years, Davis missed significant chunks of a season because of injury. It had been pretty much assumedthat Davis was never going to be able to put a full season in.
But Davis has now played in 87 consecutive games — including last season’s playoffs — and is pushing toward his first 82-game season since 2001-02. Davis is the only Warrior to play in every game this season.
Davis might have been left off the Western Conference All-Star team, but there is no doubt he is playing at an All-Star level. Few players are as important to their teams as Davis is to this one.
When Davis is healthy, the Warriors are a very good team. It isn’t any more complicated than that.
» Stephen Jackson’s emergence. Nobody knew Jackson was going to be this good when the Warriors got him from Indiana a year ago January. But he has turned into the team’s No. 2 scoring option and, in many ways, is the emotional leader of the team.
The Warriors struggle when Jackson is not on the floor because he is their best perimeter defender and he is instrumental at the offensive end, particularly when Davis is not on the floor.
The Warriors got tougher the moment Jackson arrived. And not surprisingly, they got better, too.
» Monta Ellis’ growth. Ellis’ importance to the Warriors can’t be understated. He is turning into the team’s most consistent scorer and his ability to get easy buckets in transition is a big part of what the Warriors do.
The fact that so many teams are now turning a lot of defensive attention to Ellis speaks volumes about how he has improved. As far as “third options” go, there aren’t any better ones in the league.
Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.