Golden State Warriors fans are now past the point of belief. This year, with 5,000 new season-ticket holders, they will demand results ... and should. But what are reasonable expectations for a team that barely qualified for the playoffs and now must go forward in 2007-08 without Jason Richardson?
Forget temperance. Let's set the bar high: 50 wins. It's a heady challenge in the NBA Western Conference, where five teams are virtual playoff locks San Antonio, Dallas, Utah, Phoenix and Houston. But the Warriors definitely should be among the best of the rest, and they'll have to underachieve not to make the postseason, even without Richardson.
Here are 20 keys toward getting those 50 wins:
1. Baron Davis must play at least 65 games. He's still the key to it all, even if the Warriors may have more help around him. He's a great player but also a terrific leader, and any protracted injury jeopardizes the season.
2. Continue to rule the home floor. The Warriors went 30-11 at Oracle Arena, including 10 of their final 11 regular-season games and 4 of 5 in the playoffs. With regular packed houses expected now, no excuse not to be hell at home.
3. Develop their own Paul Millsap. Millsap was Utah'sfrom Sports 1
rugged rookie energizer off the bench last year, and the Warriors really could use a sparkplug like that. It might be top pick Brandan Wright, it could be vet Austin Croshere, but look out for second-round choice Stephane Lasme as well.
4. Stephen Jackson keeps his promise to play under control. He'll sit out the first seven games on suspension, but once he returns, he has to live up to the captain designation given to him by Nelson. A strong defender and a heady, fearless player when he's on his game, so fun to watch.
5. Monta Ellis takes it up another notch. His preseason injury setback slowed his point-guard training, but the fact is, the Warriors need his scoring to compensate for Richardson at the 2-guard.
6. Andris Biedrins takes it up another notch. He's already one of the top three or four centers in the West now and still has room for improvement despite last year's breakout season, particularly on the offensive end. Get him the ball more, Baron.
7. Rebounds, please, Al Harrington. Harrington reshaped his body and had a fabulous preseason. No reason Al can't be a double-double guy with his talent. But it requires a mind-set, too.
8. Troy Hudson runs the point well enough to keep Davis at about 32 minutes a game. Hudson could really be special in Nelson's offense, but the real key is keeping Davis fresh for the final 6-8 minutes.
9. Ride the hot hand at the 2. Without Richardson, Nelson has so many options at the off-guard Ellis, Kelenna Azubuike, rookie Marco Belinelli, as well as Jackson and Davis. It'll be a challenge to find the right man every night, even for a coach as astute as Nellie.
10. Don't give up on Patrick O'Bryant. His progress encourages one night, frustrates the next. But if the Warriors ever are going to beat the bigger teams like the Spurs, Jazz and Rockets, they have to ride out his rough nights and hope it clicks.
11. Win 20 road games. The Warriors only won 12 of 41 games away from home last year only three NBA teams won fewer but they were better after they got Jackson and Harrington. Every team that won 50 last year won 20 on the road.
12. More bold all-around play from Matt Barnes. Barnes played every game as if his career depended on it, maybe because it did. Don't ever get comfortable, Matt.
13. Make those free throws. The Warriors were 26th in the league last year at 71.7 percent, and they lost the first playoff game in Utah at the line. With as many good shooters as they have, they need to get that over 75.
14. Don't get too 3-happy. The Warriors will shoot their 3s. But they get their best open looks as a result of penetration and ball movement.
15. Beat the Lakers. Whether Kobe Bryant stays or not. The W's were 0-4 last year against an inferior team. Can't happen again.
16. De-fense, de-fense. For a small team, the Warriors were as good as they've been on the defensive end in years. But any drop-off dooms them.
17. The rookies must contribute. Nelson is notoriously hard on rooks, but Belinelli, Wright and Lasme all possess assets the Warriors desperately need.
18. Stay unselfish. One of the best things about the Warriors last year is they didn't care who was the big hero.
19. Don't forget about Mickael Pietrus. When he plays with intelligence and confidence, he's as good a sixth man as you could ask for.
20. Never let off the gas pedal. Once the Warriors defined and galvanized their style under Nelson, it was off to the races. Come Tuesday night, they need to hit the ground running and keep up the pace for 82 games.
I believe and expect that they will. Let's call it 50-32 right now.
Carl Steward can be reached at (510) 293-2451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.