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The Golden State Warriors' Crucial Test in the Final Games of the NBA Season

Golden State Should Look to Spark Defense as Playoffs Approach

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | When all is said and done and the 2012-2013 season comes to a close, the Golden State Warriors will have secured a playoff appearance for the first time since 2006-2007, and only the third time in twenty years. With five games remaining, though, they still have quite a bit to play for.

At 44-33, Golden State currently sits in the sixth seed and is slotted to draw Denver or possibly Memphis in the first round. The grip on this spot is less secure than should be comfortable with the Rockets lurking only one game behind and holding the advantage of the head-to-head tiebreaker after taking three out of four games in the season series. Should the Warriors slip out of the sixth seed and drop to the seventh, they would then have to play the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team hungry to avenge a loss in last year's NBA finals against the Miami Heat.

It is imperative that the Warriors keep the sixth seed.

It's not the potential opponent that makes the seeding so important; it's the mindset. If Golden State can't fend off Houston in the waning moments of the season, it will be a let down for a team that is going to need a lot of confidence to make an impact in the playoffs. Mark Jackson has been preaching to his players and to anyone who would listen that this year's team is not the team that went through the last two decades of futility, and logically he is right. But these things aren't always logical.

The Warriors are a team that thrives on its crowd, on the energy of the moment. The more philosophical among fans could debate for hours on end whether Steph Curry's jumper fuels the fervor of the crowd, or if it's the other way around. Undeniably, the team plays better when the building ratchets up the intensity.

In 2007, when the Bay Area was swallowed up in the mantra of "We Believe," the Warriors shocked the first seeded Dallas Mavericks and went on to lose handily to the Utah Jazz. That team won its version of an NBA championship. Most fans had no delusions of a real NBA title, and were elated just to be in the dance for once and to stick it to a team that had a real shot. The truth is, we didn't really believe. We wanted to, but the team was so one dimensional, so deeply reliant on the three point shot and so lacking in defensive ability that it just wasn't realistic to do any more than it did.

This year is different. This is not a team that lives and dies on the three point line. It's still a huge part of the arsenal, but they can and have won many games on the strength of the defense. Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson are long, athletically capable wing defenders. Andrew Bogut is as good a protector of the rim as any in the NBA. Curry is a ball hawk, and David Lee is much improved from previous seasons. At times throughout the year, the team has shown flashes of defensive dominance. They held the Knicks to a season low 63 points, Houston to a season low 78, and New Orleans to 72 all over a five game stretch. They are fourth best in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed. They have all the tools and the commitment to defense has been far better under Mark Jackson than it ever was with Don Nelson at the helm.

This is why we, as fans, should believe now more than any point in the last twenty years. This is a team that can put together more than just a token run or one series of hot shooting. This is a team that needs to use these last five games to reinvigorate the defense, to jump-start a playoff run that will energize the Bay Area and build that electric atmosphere that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson and David Lee all seem to thrive on.

Nathaniel Pulliam is an avid San Francisco Bay Area sports fan, and has been following the Golden State Warriors for 16 (mostly brutal) years.

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