Talking with TNT analyst Kenny Smith a week ago, he was looking for an explanation as to why the Bay Area was so down on the Warriors. He was confused why so many predicted they would be a title contender, and he considered them to be doing well.

"They are right where they should be," Smith said, referring to the Warriors' fighting for one of the top seeds in the Western Conference.

He was right. Hysteria and panic have run rampant in #DubNation as the Warriors spent most of the season vacillating between elite and disappointing. But we're nearing the end of it all with the Warriors in a good position -- on the cusp of meeting the lofty expectations.

They are also a losing streak from threatening their playoff expectations. But in the Western Conference, that is a reasonable reality. And it wouldn't be Warriors basketball if disappointment weren't just around the corner.

The Warriors are one final push from being in the mix in the brutal West. It didn't come in the world-beating fashion die-hards wanted, but the opportunity is there if they seize it. Coming off a 4-2 trip, having won seven of nine since the All-Star break, it seems they might be finding their groove.

The Warriors are 41/2 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers, whom they visit next week, in the race for the Pacific Division crown. So that possibility, which comes with a top-four seed, is still in the Warriors' grasp. Which is right where they should be.

Anyone who thought Golden State would run away with the Pacific probably has a Chris Mullin tramp stamp. But the Warriors are in striking distance even though the Clippers are the better team.

Golden State also is 41/2 games behind Houston and Portland. The Trail Blazers, led by Oakland native Damian Lillard, shocked everybody. But when the Rockets acquired Dwight Howard to go with James Harden, it was clear they would be vying for a top seed in the West. That they are, but they still hear the Warriors' footsteps.

The first 62 games proved the Warriors were not on the level of Oklahoma City and San Antonio, which clearly are the best teams in the West. And as the NBA enters the home stretch, the Warriors have a chance to prove they are on the level of that second tier.

All those "we're fine" proclamations from coach Mark Jackson will turn out to be right if the Warriors handle business the last 20 games. The way they took down Boston on Wednesday night, it's clear they sense the time is now.

The Warriors play 13 of their last 20 games at home. Going 12-8 puts them at 50 wins. Going 15-5 (which they have done once this season) turns this campaign from a concern to convincing.

Friday's game against Atlanta is one of 10 left on the schedule against teams currently with losing records. Those teams entered Thursday a combined 163 games under .500, and eight of them have to come to Oracle.

And for a Warriors team with 20 wins away from home, some of the remaining road games don't look so daunting: Dallas, the Lakers and Denver.

The truth that seems to evade most ardent fans is that becoming NBA elite isn't so easy. It can take a few years, and it doesn't come without bumps and bruises.

In that light, the forecast is looking much better than detractors suggest. It can turn on a dime, especially if the Warriors lose another home game to a bad team. But if they have gotten that out of their system, they're in position to make good on the expectations, the reasonable ones at least.

They are getting healthy as a team -- presuming Stephen Curry's sore leg is as minor as the Warriors say -- and the roles taking shape. The Warriors have underachieved at times and overachieved others. They have squandered obvious opportunities and come up huge in others.

Through it all, they have put themselves in position to jockey for seeding and enter the postseason peaking at the right time. They are right where they should be.

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.

INSIDE
Warriors home for most of final stretch.
PAGE 4

FRIDAY'S GAME
Atlanta (26-33) at Warriors (38-24), 7:30 p.m. CSNBA