Mariotti: A 'scrimmage,' this is not 

click to enlarge Stephen Curry and the Warriors are confident after posting the NBA's best regular-season record, but know they can't rest on their laurels in the playoffs. - DANNY MOLOSHOK/AP FILE PHOTO
  • Danny Moloshok/AP file photo
  • Stephen Curry and the Warriors are confident after posting the NBA's best regular-season record, but know they can't rest on their laurels in the playoffs.

OAKLAND — So they won 67 games, lost only twice at home, are popular enough locally to have their own coffee brand and sell so much merch that they opened a second store. The Warriors, like the area they represent, still are regarded rather rudely as oddballish outliers by the American mainstream. ABC prioritized LeBron James for its preferred Sunday afternoon telecast. Vegas has installed Cleveland as the consensus NBA title favorite. And You Know Who is back with his viewpoint that a championship parade — best situated on the Bay Bridge, right? — won't be happening here in June.

"I don't like jumpshooting teams," said Charles Barkley, mouthing a tired refrain. "I don't think you can make enough jumpers to win four series, and I've said that for 25 years. They're going to beat the New Orleans Pelicans, but they have some matchup issues and I think they'll struggle against big teams. They're a legitimate contender, but I just think bigger teams can beat them up down low."

While I'm not sure where Charles goes when he isn't yammering on camera, it's clear he isn't sitting down and watching this team play. If so, he'd realize any "jumpshooting" reference is embarrassingly shallow and inaccurate. The Warriors create their rollicking offensive opportunities with the league's most efficient defense — they sure don't stand in the corner and wave for the ball. Which might explain why Steve Kerr, who used to analyze the league with Barkley at TNT, can only chuckle about Chuckster.

"I love Charles. I worked with him eight years, and he's incredible at what he does. He's hilarious," Kerr said. "He picks up every bar tab on the road. You have 28 people from TNT at the bar, and he picks up the tab. He bought me so many beers over the years ... whatever Charles wants to say about our team, I have no problem with it."

Stephen Curry didn't care, either, saying, "If Charles Barkley doesn't believe in us, it doesn't make any difference. We're not playing for him, we're playing for ourselves." Nor did Draymond Green, who usually is willing to stand up to Barkley. "Maybe he thinks I can't win one [a championship] because he ain't got one," Green said last month — but has moved on from bait-biting.

"It's fine. Nobody's opinion matters until it comes to June," he said. "It's about what you do. If we won 82 games, there still would be doubts. That's just the nature of this. None of that stuff matters. It's time to show and prove."

Show and prove. It'll be on a T-shirt by Saturday, just past high noon, when one of the 10 best regular seasons in professional hoops history fades into a potentially calamitous reboot known as the NBA playoffs. A popular perception of the Warriors, as a franchise that has crackled and popped through the years but has disappointed repeatedly come the postseason, is that they'll be exposed again by a savvier, more complete team with a superior coach. Namely, the San Antonio Spurs and Gregg Popovich, who has won five postseason rings when Kerr has yet to coach five postseason minutes. I'm not one of those pundits who pretends he has a crystal ball and predicts what happens five weeks from now, but I do like what I heard from the rookie coach and his players when reminded that: 1) 67-15 is now 0-0; and 2) a New Orleans team armed with the most transcendent young player of the era, Anthony Davis, arrives with no pressure beyond showing up for tipoff.

"Sixty-seven wins doesn't mean crap," Andrew Bogut said. "We don't get an extra pat on the back before the series starts. Anyone can beat anyone in a seven-game series."

"We had a great home record and did some historic things, but that doesn't get you any extra points in the playoffs," Curry said. "They're obviously very talented, and they have guys that can take over a game. If we're not locked in on our game plan and our execution, they can definitely beat us."

No one really believes that, not even a drunk in the French Quarter, but it's important the Warriors are grounded as their journey begins. Already, there is a silly flap that a yet-to-be-identified Warriors player, before an April 7 game in New Orleans, told a ballboy at Smoothie King Center that the game would be "a scrimmage" for Golden State. After the Pelicans won 103-100, Davis referenced the comment on TV. The Pelicans haven't forgotten. When they beat Oklahoma City and won the right to play the Warriors, someone in their locker room shouted, "Let's go ahead and get this scrimmage."

"Shirts and skins scrimmage," Quincy Pondexter added.

Bogut, for some reason wasting time on this junk, said the original comment was intended in jest. "The ballboys in New Orleans talk a lot of smack jokingly. So the last two years we've played there, we were always messing around, joking around," he said. "And I guess they were talking smack to one of our guys joking around, and he's like, 'Hey, it's just a scrimmage for us' — jokingly. And these clowns go to the other locker room and tell Anthony Davis. Which is cool, you know, anything that motivates him. It worked for him. But to make it a story that's blown up is just an absolute joke. We live, and we learn. We'll probably not have those ballboys in our locker room in New Orleans and move on from there."

Memo to Bogut: Stop worrying about ballboys. This franchise knows as well as any that a No. 8 seed can shock a No. 1 seed, recalling how the adorable "We Believe" team ousted 67-win Dallas eight years ago. Kerr rejected a related query as "not relevant," as did Curry, who said, "I didn't even think about it. Hope that won't repeat itself."

In truth, a charmed team has been handed an incredibly fortuitous path through what could have been a jungle-like Western Conference tournament. Rather than deal with a maniacal Russell Westbrook in the first round and the heated-rival Clippers in the next round, the Warriors get playoff newbies in the Pelicans — hey, the owner's wife liked the nickname — then face the winner of two banged-up teams, Memphis and Portland. I'm figuring Memphis' physicality will be enough to purge the Portland Trail Blazers in six. And while dealing with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is a challenge that reflects Barkley's point about "bigger teams [beating] them up down low," the Grizzlies wouldn't deal well with Curry and Klay Thompson — as we saw in the latest Oracle Arena clinic Monday — if Mike Conley and Tony Allen are at less than optimum health.

The Spurs, assuming they survive the Los Angeles Clippers in a monster first-round series, likely would be there in the Western Conference finals. But by then, a team that played deep into June the last two postseasons might be worn down after dealing with the Clippers and James Harden. Point being, a place in the NBA Finals is well within the Warriors' reach if they can handle the expectations, the heat. They have an immediate challenge in Davis, who averages freaky numbers — 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.9 blocks a game — and is known for much more now than his famous unibrow. "We made the playoffs, reached our goal," Davis said. "But it's not over."

To that point, someone asked Kerr if he has to prove himself all over again.

"Oh, my God. We don't care about that, honestly. I don't," he said. "This is what this job is, whether you're a coach or a player. There's a reason we all make a lot of money, to be really frank about it. There's incredible interest in the NBA, fan support, TV and media coverage. That's where all the money is generated. You earn your money in this business when you have a lousy game, you screw up, the media crushes you, the fans boo you. That's when it feels like a job. That's when you reconcile it all and go, 'It's a pretty good tradeoff, you have a pretty good life,' and move on.

"In the end, you always have to give back to perspective. We do this for a living, and we're the luckiest people on Earth. If we can't take a little criticism ... that's what it's all about, to be able to handle all that stuff and compete on the highest level."

And if the Warriors win it all? The drinks are on Charles ... for life.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at Read his website at

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Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at Read his website at
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