By Marcus Thompson II, CONTRA COSTA TIMES
OAKLAND - Warriors coach Mike Montgomery isn't kidding himself.
He sees through the buzz surrounding the team now. He remembers the 54 games before the Feb. 24 acquisition of Baron Davis. He knows playoffs are much further than they appear.
"I don't think it's fair to just disregard the first part of the season," Montgomery said. "We didn't do the things we needed to do and there was some learning that went on there for all of our guys. Certainly the fact that we're finishing strong, that we appear to be able to compete more often than not, is an encouraging sign for everybody. But when you sit back and step back and evaluate, you know there's a lot of things we have to do better to legitimately be a playoff contender."
The Warriors (34-48) closed the season on a high note by beating the Utah Jazz 106-89 at the Arena in the regular-season finale. They are now 18-10 with Davis, a winning percentage that would have been good for the Western Conference's No. 5 seed this season. They closed the 2004-05 season as one of the hottest teams in the league, beating Phoenix, Seattle, Houston, Sacramento, Washington and Philadelphia -- all playoff teams.
But there is still this issue of winning just 16 of their first 54 games and finishing 14 games below .500. There's still the nine-game losing streak and the two six-game skids. There are still the 21 home losses and the average of 100.9 points per game allowed.
"I wouldn't say this season is a success as a whole," Warriors executive vice president of basketball operations Chris Mullin said during a press conference at halftime Wednesday. "This is not the time to throw a parade and take the summer off."
It certainly has been an eventful year for the Warriors. They lost five players and acquired six in four midseason trades. But even before the acquisition of Davis, the Warriors were playing better.
An injury to power forward Troy Murphy forced the Warriors to experiment with a small lineup, a move that inspired a transition to an uptempo style of play. Davis' arrival took the team to a whole new level.
But that doesn't change the fact that as a whole, this was Montgomery's worst season, as far as winning percentage, since going 7-23 at Stanford 1992-93. Only three coaches in franchise history have had a worse record than Montgomery in their first full season with the Warriors. Bob Feerick went 31-49 (.388) in 1962-63, his only season with the team. P.J. Carlesimo was 19-63 (.232) in 1997-98 and Dave Cowens was 17-65 (.207) in 2000-01.
"In the end," Montgomery said recently, "we're not going to the playoffs."
Late in the first half, Warriors forward Mike Dunleavy capped a fastbreak by throwing a lob pass to Davis, who threw it down backwards with two hands. The play got fans, and Mickael Pietrus and Rodney White on the bench, out of their seats. It drew smiles from Davis, Dunleavy and Richardson.
Montgomery, on the other hand, didn't twitch. He sees the hike ahead, even through the hype.
Notes: The Warriors established a single-season attendance record by averaging 16,350 fans, capped by Wednesday's showing of 16,804 fans. It's the fifth-consecutive season the Warriors have seen an increase in attendance. Only the Detroit Pistons can say the same. It's also the third-consecutive season the Warriors set a single-season franchise record. ... The Warriors finished the season tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the ninth-worst record in the league -- a feat considering that at the trade deadline, the Warriors were 16-38 and the Lakers were 28-25. There will be a drawing to determine which team drafts first provided neither team lands one of the top three picks. Utah finished with the fourth-worst record. ... Forward Zarko Cabarkapa missed his second consecutive game with an allergic reaction. ... The Jazz played without forwards Carlos Boozer (strained right foot) and Andrei Kirilenko (broken left wrist), guards Raja Bell (bruised right leg) and Raul Lopez (left knee injury) and center Curtis Borchardt.
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