Warriors have gone from pretenders to contenders

More than a third of the season has passed, and the Warriors have emerged as the most surprising story in the NBA. They have compiled a 21-10 record, shown the ability to win on the road and dramatically improved defensively.

The secret is out. The Warriors are for real.

At this point, there is enough of a sample size to say anything less than a playoff spot would be a disappointment.
Golden State has started off seasons with promise before, so skepticism is expected. One playoff berth since 1994 has a way of making doubting as natural as blinking.

Even the “We Believe” squad of 2006-07 had an element of make-believe. Coach Don Nelson helmed an exhilarating team, but they had a flawed roster and no staying power.

But this year is different, thanks to a young nucleus buying into what coach Mark Jackson is selling.

And the Warriors can emphasize that point this week when they take on the Clippers — who have won XX straight and own the best record in the Western Conference — tonight at Oracle Arena and again Saturday in Los Angeles.

It wasn’t too long ago that the Warriors and Clippers could be classified as the two worst franchises in the NBA.

Snails racing had more intrigue than a Warriors-Clippers game.

But the times, they are a-changin’.

Instead of debating who is  worse between Clippers owner Donald Sterling or former Warriors owner Chris Cohan, all the focus is on two young, up-and-coming clubs who are primed for the postseason.

Instead of bad vs. worse, now it’s Chris Paul vs. Stephen Curry. Blake Griffin vs. David Lee. SoCal vs. NorCal.

The Warriors turned heads across the country with a 6-1 road trip in early December, which included a win against the defending champion Miami Heat. But the most impressive feat, one that showed this season’s success isn’t a fluke, came last week.

The Warriors had lost two of three games, including one to the lowly Sacramento Kings. During the three-game stretch against the Kings, Charlotte Bobcats and Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors allowed at least 100 points in each game.

The defense, which had been so stout, began to soften. The fall from grace Warriors fans have become accustomed to over the years appeared inevitable.

But unlike years past, the Warriors showed resiliency, reeling off three straight wins in which they allowed 83, 89 and 83 points, respectively. The statement game was Saturday’s 101-83 throttling of the Boston Celtics on the second night of back-to-back games.

In recent years, comfortable wins and the Warriors have been as uncommon as New Year’s resolutions that actually stick.

And all of this has been done without the presence of injured center Andrew Bogut.

If Bogut is ever able to get fully healthy this season, his addition could make what is already a playoff-level roster that much deeper and more dangerous.

Regardless of Bogut’s status, we’ve seen enough to know the Warriors are a legit NBA team. Time to dust off those “We Believe” T-shirts.

Dylan Kruse is the sports editor of The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at dkruse@sfexaminer.com and followed on Twitter @dkruse16.

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