Steinmetz: Warriors might be better after all

I’ve changed my mind. About two months ago, I wrote that I didn’t think the Warriors were any better than they were a year ago when they finished the season by going 16-5 and then upsetting the No. 1-seeded Dallas Mavericks.

But after getting a firsthand look in Hawaii and in Oakland, I want a do-over. I think the Warriors will win more than 42 games.

The reason I thought that the Warriors had taken a step back over the summer was simple: They had traded Jason Richardson, one of their key contributors, and were depending on a slew of young players to pick up the slack.

While that remains true, there were a few things I overlooked — or didn’t know about at the time.

First and foremost, this Warriors team has chemistry. And I mean real chemistry, the kind that translates onto the floor. Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson are in charge of this team and they’ve been tough but inclusive.

Whenever that twosome needs to be brought back into line, coach Don Nelson is there to do it. The fact of the matter is the Warriors, right now, think they are good. And that’s almost more important than whether they actually are or not.

At the end of last season, the Warriors’ unique up-tempo, frenetic style not only distinguished them from virtually every other team in the league, but also was shown to be effective in the postseason.

A year ago, Nelson was installing his system. This year, he’s fine-tuning it. One by one, teams are moving away from a walk-it-up, halfcourt style and trying to incorporate more of a running game.

But the Warriors are ahead of the curve in this regard. They might not be up to Phoenix’s standards, but they’re ahead of everyone else.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Warriors’ style alone will win them plenty of games, particularly on their home court. There will be nights when they overwhelm opponents. There will also be nights when nothing is falling and they will look quite bad. Those nights will be less frequent.

Another reason the Warriors are likely to be better is Davis is already playing at a high level. Everyone knows Davis has an injury history and he’ll likely miss some games this season, too. But he’s motivated, in terrific shape and believes in this team. And if Davis proved anything last year, it’s that when he’s playing well and all wound up he is a legit NBA superstar, a genuine difference-maker.

The Warriors are going to feel the loss of Richardson, but that doesn’t mean they have to go backwards. Richardson was a finisher for the Warriors, and a good one at that.

But among Kelenna Azubuike (better penetrator, better foul shooter), Marco Belinelli (better creator) and Mickael Pietrus (better defender), they might just have it covered.

Of course, there are always injuries, which can muck up even the best of teams. But, hey, it’s still training camp. If you can’t be optimistic now, when can you be?

Matt Steinmetz is the NBA insider for Warriors telecasts on Fox Sports Net.

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