OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—Not even coach Don Nelson can pretend he expected so much so soon from his Golden State Warriors.
Last season’s lovable underdogs are again in eighth place in the Western Conference, yet the Warriors look more like real playoff contenders with each impressive victory during three months of solid play that culminated Sunday night with a revenge win over Portland.
With a late surge to hold off Brandon Roy and the Blazers at the close of a solid five-game homestand, Golden State improved to 36-22. The longtime losers haven’t been 14 games above .500 since the last game of the 1993-94 season, yet Baron Davis and his high-scoring teammates have convinced many doubters they’re in the tough West race—including their wizened coach.
“Like I tell the (assistant) coaches after every game, that’s 35 more than I thought we’d win,” Nelson said with a laugh. “I was hoping to be in the playoff hunt. I didn’t know it was going to be this difficult, (but) this team has surprised me with their ability to be plus-14 (in the standings).”
Davis had 18 points for the Warriors, who beat Portland for the first time in three tries this season by scoring early and often. The Blazers had kept the NBA’s highest-scoring team under 100 points in both of their previous meetings, but the Warriors finished strong in their fifth straight home win over Portland.
Since losing 109-91 at Portland on Jan. 9, Golden State is 16-6—and the Warriors haven’t been held to double digits.
“Portland, they had our number the last two games,” said Jackson, who matched his season high for 3-pointers and grabbed nine rebounds. “But we’re starting to realize we’re playing for something. We want to get into these playoffs, and there’s no question we’re playing hard. We’re just trying to get into position.”
After completing their homestand with four wins, the Warriors are headed for an East Coast trip with four games in five nights, starting Tuesday in Atlanta.
Roy scored 26 points and Travis Outlaw added 17 for the Blazers, who have lost nine of 12. Roy scored 17 points in the second half, but his teammates couldn’t hit several key shots late in an uptempo game.
The Blazers also haven’t been the same since their last meeting with Golden State, going 9-16 after winning 17 of their previous 18. Portland has fallen into 10th place in the Western Conference, though it beat the Clippers and the Lakers over the previous four days to win back-to-back games for the first time since that lengthy winning run.
“The first two (meetings with Golden State) were in our building, and we did a good job of controlling the tempo,” Roy said. “Tonight, they made shots. Stephen Jackson made big shots for them.
“We needed this game because they’re the eighth seed, and if that’s what we’re shooting for, we’ve got to do a better job of coming out to win this game. They did a good job of defending their eighth spot. For us, every game is a playoff game because we’re so far behind.”
Blazers coach Nate McMillan attached special importance to the game because his club could have earned the tiebreaker with Golden State by winning the season series. Portland will return to Oakland to finish the series March 27.
“We’re trying to get across to the guys, you’ve got to grit your teeth in these types of games,” McMillan said. “Playing with that intensity, that emotion at home, is good, but you’ve got to come with even more here on the road.”
Golden State led for nearly every minute of the first three quarters, but the Blazers took their first lead early in the fourth. Davis and Ellis got big baskets before Roy pulled Portland within 105-102 with 2:52 left. But Ellis drove the lane and set up Jackson for a decisive 3-pointer with 1:32 to play.
Warriors C Andris Biedrins missed his fourth straight game after undergoing an appendectomy. C Chris Webber then sat out the second half after tweaking his left knee. The Warriors didn’t know whether the injury would affect Webber’s availability on the road trip. … Davis, often criticized for his lack of durability in recent seasons, is the only Golden State player to appear in all 58 games this season. … Portland F James Jones (knee) also played.