Mark Jackson is a serious boxing fan who holds Muhammad Ali in the highest regard. That matters because it illustrates his mindset and why the Warriors might be in a pretty good spot right now.

Sounds crazy, huh? It appears this franchise is falling apart at the seams. Now another assistant coach has gotten out of line.

Yet this might end up being fortuitous. The first 76 games of the season, all the drama and struggles, have resulted in the type of setting where Jackson does his best work -- when the world is against him. The Warriors play better when they have something to prove.

This season began with high expectations. The Warriors were deemed by many locally to be a serious contender. A top-four seed was the presumed next step. But events have conspired to change the tone, transforming the Warriors into disappointing underdogs.

The latest event is the ouster of assistant coach Darren Erman, who was fired because of what the team called a violation of company policy. Sources say Erman's behavior was egregious enough to warrant being fired immediately even though it would be a distraction to a team trying to find its footing on the cusp of the playoffs. The same team sources said this was not on Jackson, who weeks ago demoted assistant coach Brian Scalabrine to the NBA Development League because of a "difference of philosophy."


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But no matter whose fault for this latest episode, it only adds to the aura of dysfunction entangling the franchise. All that preseason hype has dissipated thanks to injuries, a ridiculously tough Western Conference, ugly losses to inferior teams and tension between the head coach and management -- inflamed by co-owner Joe Lacob's public criticism of Jackson.

This franchise hardly resembles one poised for a postseason run. And that benefits the Warriors. Because this is where Jackson shines.

The supposed Goliath has again become David. And a master motivator, one who quietly has orchestrated one of the league's best defenses and has his team headed toward 50 wins, now has fresh ammunition to use.

The stage is set for Jackson to paint the Warriors as counted out. The environment is primed for this team to band together and hush the naysayers.

Jackson has proved he can handle his back being against the wall. So much so that you'd have to wonder if he's rope-a-doping. Like Ali.

The Warriors are 21-8 after losses this season, 10-1 after their last 11 defeats. This is after going 21-14 after losses last season.

The ability to thrive despite setbacks has marked the Jackson regime -- which has included a Monta Ellis sexting scandal, a secret Andrew Bogut microfracture surgery, Stephen Curry's ankle issues, Jackson's extortion scandal, and now drama with two assistant coaches.

You think he's reeling? This where Jackson has always thrived. He's comfortable here. He loves proving you wrong.

Adversity has always been his motivation. He might even create it in his head for some extra edge. For that is when his faith kicks in to overdrive, when his competitive spirit peaks. And coming out on top after such is when he can talk the most trash. Like Ali.

In 2012, he got a collection of D-Leaguers, NBA journeymen and youngsters to play noticeably hard for him even after management waived the white flag on the season and traded away the best player. In the 2012-13 season, he parlayed low predictions by national media into a rallying cry that pushed the Warriors out to a 22-10 start. He then milked the underdog status to the tune of a first-round upset over Denver and gave San Antonio a tough fight with his two best players hobbled by injuries.

And now, with six games left and the franchise plagued by drama, that us-against-the-world mentality has a reason to come back.

The Warriors have three starters dealing with injuries. No matter who they get in the playoffs (and making it isn't guaranteed yet), they will be climbing uphill. On top of that, Jackson's future with the organization hangs in the balance.

You could argue the Warriors are in this predicament because Jackson isn't good with expectations. You could make a case he was able to change the culture but isn't the guy to get this team to the next level. The Warriors as a franchise haven't handled the success of last season well.

However, getting to this point might have provided the best environment for them to make some real noise in the playoffs. Their best hope is playing inspired, relying on their chemistry and maxing out. And Jackson is equipped to play that against-the-odds card.

And if they pull of a playoff run, you had better believe he's going to announce how his team shocked the world. Like Ali.

Read Marcus Thompson II's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/thompson. Contact him at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ThompsonScribe.





SUNDAY'S GAME

Utah (24-52) at Warriors (47-29), 6 p.m. CSNBA

INSIDE

Warriors fire assistant coach Darren Erman. PAGE 3