Daydream Believers

In the middle of another catastrophic season, the Golden State Warriors refuse to face the probability that they're as bad as they seem

All around the Arena, people were standing, screaming.

Veteran point guard Blaylock worked the clock down to 6.7 seconds, nearly draining the shot clock just as he should have, before hoisting up a three-point attempt that missed, bouncing hard off the back rim. Jamison, who had charged down the lane for the rebound, got a hand on the ball, but it bounced out past the three-point line. Two players, Hughes and Seattle's Barry, had a shot at it. Hughes churned his long legs and arms and extended himself fully, but Barry, an inch taller, has a longer reach. He tapped the ball ahead to Payton, who coyly slid a bounce pass to his teammate Rashard Lewis for an easy, emphatic dunk.

The Warriors, now down two, called timeout.

The clock read: 1.0.

A building that was almost shaking from noise just a few seconds before was now almost pin-drop quiet as the Warriors broke their huddle. The whole stadium -- four-fifths of Seattle's lineup included -- seemed caught off-guard as Jamison hurled the ball half the length of the court into the hands of Jackson.

All alone under the basket.

Two feet away from sending the game to overtime.

With no time to fake, Jackson threw a layup attempt up immediately. And Ruben Patterson, timing his leap perfectly from behind the play, tattooed the ball into the backboard.

Less than seven seconds after it appeared the team would at least push the game to overtime, the Warriors had lost the ball, given up the go-ahead basket, and then, in a miracle of shot-blocking, been denied a seemingly certain tie.

"Don't forget your free chalupa coupon on the way out," a cheery voice said over the PA system.

Back in the locker room, a glassy-eyed Jackson commented: "Like Superman coming out of the rafters. Did you see him?"

Of all the Warriors' players, none seems to wear a loss on his face more than Antawn Jamison. And this makes sense: Before he was a Golden State Warrior, he was a North Carolina Tar Heel, one of two superstar players -- Toronto's Vince Carter was the other -- on teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament's Final Four in two straight seasons. In fact, Jamison was drafted No. 4 by Toronto in 1998, and then traded, with an undisclosed amount of cash, for Carter, whom the Warriors had taken with the fifth pick. Carter's athleticism and flamboyance made him an immediate superstar, the "Air Apparent" to Michael Jordan's marketing throne.

Jamison found himself on a team still reeling from the Sprewell episode, playing for a coach, Carlesimo, who didn't particularly enjoy starting young players. Also, Jamison was adjusting to a new position; in college, he'd played inside, because his 6-foot-9 frame and his quickness let him dominate around the basket. In the NBA, 223-pound 6-foot-9 players aren't particularly large; Jamison struggled on offense -- he couldn't shoot outside close range -- and struggled even more on defense. So Carlesimo limited his minutes, and he only averaged 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds.

Watching Jamison play now, that seems like a long time ago: He's become an almost automatic medium- to long-range jump-shooter, and his inside game -- an odd assortment of teardrops, squirters, and quick post moves -- at times evokes Celtics great Kevin McHale. Jamison now averages 25 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. The improvement is obviously a product of unrelenting hard work.

But for all the vast strides he's made as a player since entering the league, Jamison hasn't put a dent in the armor that protects the Warriors' futility. The year before he was acquired, the team went 19-63. It posted the same mark last season. This year, the team seems headed for a few more wins, but is still likely to wind up far, far below .500, and far, far away from the NBA playoffs.

Jamison remains a graceful, grinning poster boy for the organization, which has promoted him and Hughes relentlessly as saviors. On "Antawn Jamison Doll Night," which coincided with the team's defensive debacle against Houston, he sat in the locker room long after most of the other players had gone, answering every last question.

But there are days when being a Warrior wears on Jamison, and Jan. 30 was one of them.

It started with a phone call from a Warriors official telling him that he had not been selected for the Western Conference All Star Team. The snub made him the NBA's highest-scoring non-All Star.

Then, after a 90-mile drive up I-80 East to Sacramento's Arco Arena, he was told Golden State would be without starting center Marc Jackson for that night's game against the Kings, who own the Western Conference's best record and have one of its deepest front lines, including two players who did make the All Star Team: Chris Webber (the former Warrior who may well be named the league's most valuable player this year) and center Vlade Divac.

Cowens was explaining the matchup difficulties to reporters in the hall outside the visitors' locker room when Jamison walked by.

"But he's playing," Cowens said, looking at his star, "so we have a chance."

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