OAKLAND — Their season of hope followed by the midseason of promise, the Warriors and their postseason dreams now confront the sharp and pointed blade of reality.

Which is engraved, let's see, a closer look reveals . . . 2007-08.

Given their 106-105 loss to the suddenly respectable Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night at Oracle Arena, this is as good a morning as any to put those playoff thoughts on pause. And keep them there until next autumn.

That's when the Warriors, should they find the other side of luck, can assemble themselves, become integrated and begin to grasp the possibilities.

That's when new faces on new teams could alter the balance of power in the Western Conference and, perhaps, work to their advantage.

That's when the Warriors might have the luxury of a set rotation, as in five starters with three or four effective players coming off the bench.

For the likelihood of this Warriors team playing beyond April 18 sits at a fraction above zero, and the barriers can be distilled to this: Five teams, two slots, one cranky knee, too many lineups and too few bench alternatives.

To do the math is to conclude the Warriors (24-28) are doomed. They areamong five teams — including the Nuggets (25-24), Clippers (25-26), Timberwolves (24-27) and Hornets (24-27) — slobbering over the final two seeds in the West.

As of this morning, after this painful defeat, the W's are fifth among the five teams. Or 11th in the race for a total of eight spots.


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If there is a front-runner it is Denver, because it has the most top-end talent. Yet the Nuggets, featuring All-Stars Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, have yet to find their defense or their chemistry. They have two months to do so and probably will.

The Clippers, though slightly ahead of the Warriors, are a mess. Their chemistry is worse than Denver's and likely won't change until they finally decide, once and for all, the immediate future of talented sixth man Corey Maggette.

Minnesota can't be dismissed as long as it has Kevin Garnett, yet no team in this mediocre bunch is playing with the passion — or defense — of New Orleans/Oklahoma City, which has won three in a row and eight of its last 10.

The Warriors have thus far remained in the race because they haven't been bad enough to get trashed and haven't been good enough to separate themselves.

The problem is, there is no reason to expect that to change.

Their best player, Baron Davis, the point guard and leader, has a tender left knee. Having missed the last four games, while undergoing tests and being examined, Davis is out indefinitely, in the broadest sense of the word.

Without BD, you end up losing at home to a team like the Hawks.

Losing to the Hawks (20-30), the NBA's youngest team, twice in two games, as the Warriors have this season, is criminal enough to pull their credentials for the playoffs.

Enough to convince even the most optimistic observer that the Warriors won't get appreciably better until 2007-08.

Especially considering their next best players, Al Harrington and Jason Richardson, have yet to take the floor together. Harrington arrived on Jan. 20, precisely three weeks after Richardson left the lineup with a fractured right hand. J-Rich has missed more than half the season, and Don Nelson, as badly as he would like to have him, won't believe he's back until he's back.

The team's next best player, Stephen Jackson, who came over with Harrington at midseason in the deal in which the Warriors dumped Troy Murphy and Mike Dunleavy, has not shared the floor with the aforementioned threesome.

The team's next best player, Monta Ellis, is 21 years old. Then there is Andris Biedrins, who is 20, and Mickael Pietrus, who for the second time this season is sidelined by a sprained ankle.

This is how a coach ends up trying 27 lineups in 52 games. Nelson, constantly seeking the right mix, spends as much time wading through his shallow bench as he does coaching his players.

Which does nothing at all to aid the team's aversion to defense, which happens to be the most essential element of a playoff team. 

"I'm down to eight guys at this time, and this isn't the first time this season that we've only had eight," Nelson said before the game. "The problem is, defense. If I'm penalizing guys for not being in position defensively, or getting beat where they're not supposed to get beat, or not closing out, or not challenging shots or things like that, and you only have eight guys sitting there, probably two of them have come out for the same reason."

"I told the team that the other day, and they got a big laugh out of it. I said, 'It's not that I'm going to bury you on the bench. You're going to get back in because the other poor bastard is making the same mistakes.'"

Nelson chuckled as he said this, presumably to keep from crying.

Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at

mpoole@angnewspapers.com