Final stretch: Warriors in three-way tie

March 31, 2008 2:06:16 PM PDT
The Western Conference playoff chase now features three teams tied for the final two spots. The Dallas Mavericks, Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors sit at 45-28 with nine games to play. The chase tightened up Sunday night when the Warriors stopped the Mavs 114-104.

It's a great race.

Let's look a little closer at the Warriors, what they have going for them and what's going to hold them back if they emerge from this knot to make the playoffs.

Warriors GM Chris Mullin did a good job of getting this team together when he brought in Don Nelson before last season. And Nelson in turn has done a great thing in giving Stephen Jackson the responsibility of captain this season. I'm happy for Jackson. People showing newfound maturity, growth and responsibility are great to see, in the NBA and out.

Jackson has shown that when he keeps his emotions in check, he can impact his team. He has risen to the responsibility of a leadership role.

And when you talk about an offensive trio in the game right now, few can match the offensive versatility that Jackson (21.0 ppg), Baron Davis (22.2 ppg) and Monta Ellis (19.8) bring to the table. Ellis had 30 to lead the Warriors in the win over Dallas.

But we still have to look at what the Warriors don't do well -- defend, rebound (its minus-4.1 rebound margin is surpassed only by the Heat's minus-4.9) and take high-percentage shots. In the regular season, leading the NBA in scoring is one thing, but the playoffs are a different story. The Warriors are missing a Carlos Boozer type, the guy who can take those high-percentage shots and do the rebounding work down low.

Golden State doesn't have that established tandem at the 4 and 5. I like what my former teammate in Indiana, Al Harrington, is showing he can do by spreading the floor and shooting the 3. But it's a different type of success than what the Warriors would need to win playoff basketball.

Teams succeed by finding that mismatch with inside-outside tandems, and looking at contenders in the West, most have significant forces in the paint, whether it's Shaquille O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire in Phoenix or a player like Tyson Chandler in New Orleans.

The game Sunday was a rematch of last season's big upset, one that wasn't such a surprise to some of us who see the playoff matchups like a boxing match, and that playing styles make fights.

Golden State always has that puncher's chance. That's what Dallas found out in last season's playoffs. Unfortunately for the Mavs in this season's playoff hunt, they are facing teams that are used to playing together. Dallas is still adjusting to playing without the reigning MVP, Dirk Nowitzki.

Speaking of the MVP, one of the great things about working in the media now is the fun of waffling back and forth on the MVP race.

Here's my update -- it's going to be either "Kobe Paul" or "Chris Bryant."

They're interchangeable MVP names, depending on the latest result. Chris Paul had 20 points and 16 assists in a 118-111 win in Toronto. Kobe Bryant had 26 and 13 in a 126-120 overtime win against the Wizards, snapping a two-game losing streak. And of course, we must give props to LeBron James, because it doesn't happen every year that a player gets 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

Kevin Garnett has led his team MVP-style to the league's best record. He should get defensive player of the year.

As for Golden State and Dallas, the one award they're looking to get is the honor of making the playoffs. It's going to take some work.