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Warriors hard-pressed to match playoff run under Nelson

This year's team has been exciting, but don't overlook Nellie's accomplishment in 2007

Published: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 6:34 p.m.

As past president of the Strictly Unofficial Press Democrat Sports Department Don Nelson Fan Club (OK, there was only one member), a few things need to be pointed out to Warriors owners, coaches, players and fans.

First, though, some common courtesy in in order.

Congratulations on making the playoffs, the team's first postseason appearance in six years and only its third in the past 20 seasons.

And congratulations to Mark Jackson, the first coach not named Don Nelson to lead the Warriors to the playoffs since George Karl did it 26 years ago, during which time no fewer than eight head coaches (Bob Lanier, Rick Adelman, P.J. Carlesimo, Garry St. Jean, Dave Cowens, Brian Winters, Eric Musselman and Mike Montgomery) not only failed to make the playoffs but didn't even reach the mediocrity of a .500 record. And, speaking of Karl, his Denver Nuggets are the Warriors' first-round opponents. Denver took a 57-25 overall record, including a league-best 38-3 at home, into the postseason.

Now to the matter at hand.

Having just concluded a 47-win regular season, the Warriors have gone five consecutive years without matching or exceeding their 48 victories under Nelson in 2007-08. Granted, that team didn't make the playoffs, and the whole point of playing the regular season is to play in the postseason. Still, 48 wins are more than 47.

Those 48 wins under Nelson gave the Warriors the 12th-best record in the NBA, but they had to grit their teeth and swallow their pride as five teams with worse records, including two with losing marks and one that broke even, dribbled into the '08 postseason. Call it the curse of Western Conference supremacy. Also call it the idiocy of how the NBA decides who goes to the playoffs and who stays home. Of course, home in Nelson's case is Maui, so how bad can that really be?

But back to the matter at hand.

When the Warriors last got to the playoffs, with the “We Believe!” team in the spring of 2007, they were the eighth (as in lowest) seed in the Western Conference. Their first-round playoff opponents were the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who were coming off a 67-win season, best in the league, among the best in NBA history.

The Warriors had needed to finish the regular season with nine victories in 10 games and a five-game winning streak just to sneak into the playoffs with a ho-hum 42-40 record. And, so, the so-called experts figured they were in a less-than-golden state of exhaustion and no match for the marauding Mavs.

Well, you remember what happened, don't you? Continuing to play inspired basketball, and led by Baron Davis, Stephen Jackson and Jason Richardson, the Warriors won in six games, taking both the opening game and the clincher on Dallas' home court. Revisionist history may at times tend to place Nelson in an unflattering light, with his insistence on seemingly chaotic small-ball offense and an apparent lack of interest in defense, but the playoff upset over the No. 1-seeded Mavericks in 2007 will be among the franchise's all-time highlights forever, and Nelson's role in it was pure coaching genius.

What does all this have to do with the here-and-now?

Nothing ... unless you want to compare and contrast.

Unless the current squad upsets Denver and makes it to the second round, the Warriors' playoff achievement six years ago under Nelson will remain unmatched since. Unless the current Warriors make it to the conference finals, the 2007 playoff achievement under Nelson will remain unsurpassed since.

So, yes, by all means, Warriors owners, coaches, players and fans should feel darn good about getting into the playoffs. That didn't look likely after their 23-win campaign a year ago in Jackson's rookie season as head coach. And watching Stephen Curry, who set an NBA single-season record for 3-pointers, and David Lee, who became the first Warrior since Wilt Chamberlain in 1964 to lead the league in double-doubles, take the team to the playoffs this year was sheer delight.

This is merely a reminder. With 16 teams making the playoffs in a 30-team league, it could be argued it's harder not to make the postseason. Which is a pseudo-clever way of saying the current Warriors really haven't done anything; not yet, anyway.

But make no mistake. Nellie, likely with a scotch in one hand and a cigar in the other as the fragrant Hawaiian breezes bring peace and contentment to the NBA's all-time winningest coach, will be rooting for the Warriors, as will the former president of a strictly unofficial Nelson fan club.

Robert Rubino can be reached at RobertoRubino@comcast.net.

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