By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
By Erin Sherbert
By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
In the media room just outside the Golden State Warriors' locker room, head coach Dave Cowens is sitting alone behind a table on a raised platform, waiting as reporters file in to ask him questions about his team's 26th loss in 37 games. His eyes, drooping into the large bags surrounding them, are fixated on the empty red plastic cup he holds in his oversized hands. He's turning the cup over, twirling it around, spinning it slowly.
A glance at Cowens suggests the obvious: He's not used to this. During his Hall of Fame, 11-year playing career, spent mostly with the then-dynastic Boston Celtics, he went to the playoffs seven times and won two NBA championships. In his two full seasons as an NBA head coach, he led the Charlotte Hornets to the playoffs twice.
He will not be going there this season.
Answering questions, he does not look up once.
"I don't know," he says, head shaking, his voice a plodding monotone. "I just thought we should have won the game."
The Cleveland Cavaliers came into the Arena in Oakland having lost 10 of their previous 13 games. In tonight's game, the Warriors led by as many as 12 points in the second half. And they were up by six, more than halfway through the fourth quarter. But then they fell into the kind of basketball doldrums that have been their signature for the better part of seven seasons. For five solid minutes, the team missed every shot it took -- all four of them -- and turned the ball over four times.
While Cowens watched this remarkable display of futility from the bench -- standing silently slack-jawed with his hands on his sides for most of it; sitting with his head in his hands once it became apparent that collapse was irreversible -- he looked down his bench a few times, probably for help. He saw six injured players, wearing street clothes.
"All you can do," he says now, both the monotone and the fixation with the red cup unbroken, "is run plays and get guys open. I don't know; I just thought we should have won that ballgame."
In professional sports, teams that crumble in the final moments generally expect to exit their arenas to choruses of boos. But the Warriors have crumbled so regularly, for so long, that late-game incompetence plays into a different dynamic. With his team trailing 107-99 with 4.8 seconds left -- that is, at a point when there was absolutely no chance for his team to win the game -- guard Mookie Blaylock hit a layup, snapping a five-minute, 11-second stretch without a Warriors basket, and, more important, pushing the Warriors' total past 100 points.
Hitting the century mark meant fans could claim coupons for free Taco Bell chalupas. Those remaining of the original crowd (a healthy 15,289) erupted with chalupa glee and exited smiling and laughing; the Warriors walked off the court tormented by yet another defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
While a despondent Cowens mopes through his news conference, Larry Hughes -- who watched the game from the bench, his injured right thumb in a splint, his rail-thin 6-foot-5-inch frame swimming in baggy clothing instead of a Warriors uniform -- peeks through the doorway. A year ago, Hughes was acquired via a three-way deal from Philadelphia, where the talented 21-year-old was sulking on the bench behind Allen Iverson. When they traded for him in the wake of a season-ending knee injury to the team's other much-marketed young star, Antawn Jamison, Hughes was everything the remaining Warriors weren't: gifted, athletic, excited, exciting.
But the team finished 19-63, and -- one year later -- is still enduring post-game palls like this one.
"That's the hardest thing, just seeing the faces," says the reserved guard, whose assortment of tattoos and hip-hop clothing projects a persona that's far louder than he seems to be. "I mean, coach was in there, just sitting up there by himself. And he just looked ... well, I mean, you don't ever want to see your coach look like that."
Any franchise that goes 125-277 over a seven-year period is in for its share of agonizing moments. But for this batch of Golden State Warriors, losing has been even worse. In their minds, you see, the Warriors are a playoff team. Just ask them. Never mind that the standings say they're 15-33. Or that their season-opening starting lineup -- the one that supposedly would have taken them to the playoffs, or at least close to the playoffs, but for an unprecedented plague of injuries -- won just one out of six games before the injuries started. Or that nearly all of their supposedly promising core players have at least one major deficiency in their games. Those things? Details.
What matters, the Warriors insist, is that this team comes so close before losing games. What's obvious, they will tell you again and again, is that some of the team's best players have been turned into an Armani-clad set of M*A*S*H patients glued to the end of the bench. What's clear, they believe, is that, except for an extraordinary string of bad luck that has to end sometime, everything would be different.
Even though there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, the Warriors actually do believe their time is coming, and that's why they're suffering so miserably now.
Things just seem to happen to the Golden State Warriors. And when they happen, it's to a degree that makes the afflictions of other NBA franchises look trivial. The Warriors don't just make bad trades; they feel compelled by irresistible events and forces to give up an already-blossoming young star (Chris Webber) for a relative pittance in return. They don't just have player discontent; they have Latrell Sprewell trying to strangle coach P.J. Carlesimo. They don't just have injuries; they have 23 players missing 543 games over a season and a half. And if other franchises can usually pin their failings on a bad coach here or an inept executive there, or on some isolated bad luck, blame for the Warriors' woes is too widespread to allow that kind of focusing. Since 1994 the Warriors have had two owners, three general managers, and six coaches. The characters change, and the plagues carry on, as if ordained by God, or, perhaps, Satan.
If the Warriors do catastrophe better than other NBA teams, this season they're outdoing even themselves. Fifteen players have already missed 212 total games with various ailments, and some of those injuries have reeked of the type of cruel fate usually reserved for Greek tragedy. Exhibit A: newly acquired power forward Danny Fortson, and his foot.
Acquired over the off-season from Boston through a four-way trade, Fortson, an effective reserve forward most of his four-year NBA career, was expected to come in and give the Warriors a proven rebounder to complement star forward Antawn Jamison on the front line. Fortson did just that. During a season-opening six-game stretch, Fortson was a bright spot. He scored better than 16 points per game and led the NBA in rebounding. Then he refractured a foot he'd broken the previous season.
He hasn't played since.
"I don't know if I'd use the expression "nuts,'" says General Manager Garry St. Jean, "but it's incredibly frustrating. You know, you sit here, and you're overseeing the basketball operation, and you're excited for the individual. And he's excited to be here. His teammates are excited. His coaches are excited. The fans are excited. That's a lot of special elements. And then, uh, well, that's definitely a major setback for this team."
To many on and around the Warriors, the team's terrible record this year is a matter of Fortson-like bad luck. It is not something that could have been avoided, or prepared for; it is an act of God, like an earthquake. Without the injuries, they fervently believe, this team would rock, or, at least, win nearly as often as it loses.
But the belief is just that -- a belief -- and the facts don't necessarily support it.
Although it's possible that a completely healthy Warriors team might resemble something competitive -- that it might even be in the hunt for a bottom-rung playoff seed in the NBA's talent-stacked Western Conference -- the notion that this group of Warriors will get completely healthy for a long period of time is probably a pipe dream. Center Erick Dampier's bum knee has kept him out of the better part of two full seasons. (And actually, the injury seems less a blow to the team than a matter of addition by subtraction: Dampier is a large but molasses-slow center who shot a miserable 43 percent from the field and pulled down 6.8 rebounds a game when he's actually played this season. His replacement, Marc Jackson, has turned out to be the team's second most effective player, averaging 17.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a starter, with a shooting percentage almost 10 percent higher.) Chris Mills is a quality NBA swingman, but his ankle has plagued him, it seems, since the moment he was acquired in the Sprewell deal. When the team traded for Fortson, it knew he'd missed the last half of the previous season with a stress fracture of his right foot -- the same injury he has now. Guard Bob Sura, another off-season acquisition, has missed time with a back ailment that's also plagued him in the past. It's true that former Dream Teamer Chris Mullin has missed 25 games because of injury. But he's 38 years old and slow, and missing games because of injury is what 38-year-old players do.
There are, of course, the freak injuries -- Hughes missed nine games after falling on his thumb; Adonal Foyle broke a tibia in almost miraculous fashion, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that "it felt like somebody kicked me ... I'm cursed." But are the Warriors so much worse off in that regard than a team like Miami, which lost star center Alonzo Mourning for the season with a kidney ailment? Or Orlando, which lost Grant Hill, possibly the game's most complete player, to a foot injury similar to Fortson's?
Despite their injuries, Miami and Orlando may make the playoffs. The Warriors are going to come in last, or second-to-last, in their division, as they usually do.
Although he doesn't say so directly or harshly, even Cowens appears to recognize that some of his team's problems -- perhaps even its most significant problems -- have nothing to do with injury.
"What's happened to us," Cowens says, "is unprecedented. ... This is a team where the personnel and everything is brand-new, and then we get hit with all this stuff. ... But I don't know how good we'd be. I mean, we were together for about seven games, and we were 1-6. I know I don't wanna be that."
The Warriors' practice facility is a 58,000-square-foot bunker tucked behind the Marriott Hotel in Oakland City Center, the first floor of which is occupied mostly by a cavernous trio of gleaming basketball courts. By 1 p.m. the day before a game in Utah, all the healthy players have finished practice and scattered, leaving four or five injured players visible in and around the adjacent weight room. Only Adonal Foyle, the fourth-year backup center out of Colgate University, remains in the gym. Foyle has just finished a rehab workout for his broken right shinbone, and his 6-foot-10, 250-pound frame is hemorrhaging sweat. Before sitting down for an interview, he asks if he should dry off first, his heavily accented, nearly flawless English hinting at his Island of Grenadines roots.
The Warriors used a lottery pick on him in 1997, still trying to fill the power-player vacuum created by the Webber trade. Having been here since, Foyle's seen his share of losing. The teams he's played on -- "and not played on," he jokes -- have lost 186 of their 260 games. And when he was a rookie, still trying to figure out NBA life, his team's captain tried to choke his coach, which -- aside from forcing the team to shed its best player -- put the team under a dark cloud for the next year.
"Nobody ever wanted to talk about any game, just, "How did P.J. [Carlesimo] look,' and all that," he says. "And, on the road, the fans were so brutal. You know, "Hey, P.J., how's your neck? He shoulda broke it.' And you're like, damn."
Foyle is laughing, because what else can you do when you've been through so much misery in such a short career? (His ability to keep the team's woes in perspective may be partly owed to his off-court preoccupations: a nearly finished master's degree in sports psychology, and the Law School Aptitude Test he's purchased the prep books for.) Still, he's suffering. This season is far more frustrating than past Warriors insanity because, Foyle insists, this team is "sooo talented. The fans can't really see how good we are."
They see 15-33.
"It's just been very frustrating, knowing that there are things you can do to help the team, when the team is close in almost every game," he says. "You look down the bench, and the coach just doesn't have any choice."
There is no denying that injuries have hurt the Warriors, sometimes in obvious, specific ways. For example, Foyle is a defensive specialist. Just a few days earlier, he sat in street clothes and watched his team allow an eye-popping 112 points to a middle-of-the-pack Houston team at the Arena. But it wasn't merely the number of points the team allowed, it was the way it allowed them.
Houston's Matt Bullard and Walt Williams, for instance, are oversized shooting specialists who do one thing consistently: make jump shots when left completely alone. So you can understand why Warriors fans were booing when, over and over again, Bullard or Williams would set screens for Houston point guard Steve Francis, who would slide a step or two away from the screen, drawing both his defender and the player guarding the screener, the way a rabbit baits a racing dog. And then, over and over again, as if in excruciatingly slow motion, Francis would softly flutter the ball over the defenders' heads and -- lo and behold -- the Players Who Can Only Shoot When Left Completely Alone ... were shooting when left completely alone. By the time the game was over, the Warriors had surrendered 10 three-point baskets.
Golden State's defensive woes weren't limited to three-pointers. Moochie Norris, an extremely left-handed Houston guard, beat the Warriors' guards repeatedly by driving past them without so much as a suggestion that he had a right hand. As Norris sized up the Warriors' defense once again, preparing to drive left to the basket, one writer who regularly covers the team actually flailed his arms in the air and yelped, "Left!"
Then Moochie Norris blazed by Mookie Blaylock in that familiar leftward direction.
As Norris and his fellow Houston back-court mates coasted by the Warriors again and again, Foyle, who specializes in swatting such shots out of the lane, watched helplessly. To his right, at the end of the bench, was Erick Dampier, the sullen-seeming, 6-foot-11-inch giant in a tan business suit who can, when healthy, also block a shot or two.
Other members of the M*A*S*H crowd have attributes the Warriors could certainly use on the court. The enormous Afro rising out of the mountain of baggy denim to Foyle's right was small forward Chris Porter, one of the bright spots of the season before spraining his ankle in a Jan. 5 game at Boston. The 55th pick in this season's NBA draft, Porter managed to make a positive impression on the Warriors -- showing some quickness and toughness, if not much of a jump shot -- after being forced into the lineup by injuries to Fortson, veteran swingman Chris Mills, and the ancient Chris Mullin. And to Porter's right was Fortson, the rotund rebounder who was decked out in a cobalt suit that evening.
"Sometimes Dave just looks down the bench and starts laughing," Foyle said. "I mean, you just have to laugh."
Or transport yourself to an alternate reality.
Within the Warriors family, the main defense mechanism to the team's plague of injuries seems to be an unrealistic level of optimism, a belief that fate has somehow deprived them of a sure thing.
"We are a playoff team," Antawn Jamison says. "If we have our team together for 60 or 70 games, we're definitely a playoff team. And that's not just talking."
Jamison has good reason for personal optimism: Over the last two years, he has developed from a hesitant rookie with holes in his game into a budding superstar. Thinking back to an electric night at the Arena -- Dec. 6, when he outshined L.A. Lakers stars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, pouring in 51 points and pushing the Warriors to a victory over the defending world champions, in overtime, in front of a sellout home crowd -- he shares a daydream.
"You know, you just imagine winning some games, because the fans have been really supportive every time we've played well. And with a few more wins, you get some more people in the house. And then, you know, just like that, people will be worried about coming into Oakland, with the hostile crowd, always on their feet and all that."
The cruelest aspect of these daydreams is that, every so often, they're indulged by reality. After a recent win against a Boston team still reeling from the firing (and the tenure) of coach Rick Pitino, the Warriors' second victory in as many nights, the mood just outside the locker room was downright giddy. St. Jean, the salty, red-faced general manager who is normally gregarious enough to get away with using "shit" as a friendly greeting, is beaming in the direction of Jamison, whose 31 points and five rebounds helped the team overcome his eight turnovers.
"You see? You see?" cackles St. Jean. "We're gonna get these guys back, and it's gonna be "March Madness.'"
"Right," Jamison replies, grinning, "and then we're gonna win the championship, right, coach?" The two men erupt into convulsions of laughter and back-patting before drifting off in opposite directions.
Jamison was kidding; St. Jean wasn't. "March Madness" is a term he and his salary-cap-savvy sidekick, Assistant General Manager Gary Fitzsimmons, tossed around throughout January, referring to doctors' projections that most of the team's wounded would be back in the lineup by March. (Of the injured Warriors, only Mills is projected to miss the remainder of the season.)
Because many of the team's losses have been by small margins, and because the Warriors have had what St. Jean calls their "hockey team" of wounded on the bench, the prospect of getting most of the roster back has enticed the team like a mirage in a desert."That's our goal, to hold it together," Larry Hughes says. "We'll get Danny back, Damp pretty soon. And then we should be rolling. I think we're ready for a breakthrough. We just need to hold things down until those guys get back."
Never mind that the team was 1-5 when "those guys" were healthy.
The most reasonable facet of the Warriors' optimism involves the prospect of playing the team's "young core" -- Jamison, Jackson, Fortson, and Hughes -- together. Hughes opened the team's "Just Wait Until Everyone Gets Back" era last February, when he was acquired from Philadelphia at the trade deadline. Because Jamison was already shelved for the season with a knee injury, the Warriors were left to imagine what it might be like to have two supremely talented young players on the court at once.
And Hughes certainly has physical talent. Even though his Philly coach, Larry Brown, said Hughes had a greater upside than superstar teammate Allen Iverson, the 21-year-old wasn't playing. He was trapped behind Iverson on the bench, and news reports about him moping through practices were beginning to surface. So the Sixers shipped him to Golden State in a three-way deal that involved the Chicago Bulls.
Hughes immediately gave Warriors fans some excitement, bringing quickness and athleticism the Warriors hadn't seen since -- well, since Sprewell and Webber. Let loose amongst the rotting Warriors, Hughes averaged better than 22 points and almost six rebounds per game.
And even though he'd gone from an emerging playoff team to the Pacific Division's doormat, Hughes was in hoop heaven.
"When I got here, the team was pretty much done," he recalls, his eyes lighting up a bit as he describes his game. "But, for me, it was a chance to break out, to do what I've been doing since I started playing basketball, and that's play with a free mind, free range to make plays and do things that help a team win."
But Hughes hasn't helped the Warriors in the winning department yet: They were 6-26 after acquiring him last year; his much-hyped union with Jamison has produced an 11-26 record when they've been on the court together. That record is at least partially linked to a reality that optimism alone cannot change: For all his other apparent gifts, Larry Hughes seems to be a shooting guard who cannot shoot.
While he's made strides in other areas of his game -- his assists are up (4.8 per game from 4.1), and he remains one of the league's best rebounding guards -- his shooting is actually down a percentage point this year (to a bricklayer's 38 percent), and he frequently lapses into what Cowens calls his "typical stuff," a wild assortment of off-balance, low-percentage shots that, while producing some highlight-reel material, wastes more possessions than a pro basketball team can afford.
"Larry's had some real big games for us," St. Jean says, referring to the 41-point explosion against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers last season. "So there's a lot of optimism. But having said that, he's 21. And you don't just turn this on like a light switch. You have to learn how to play in the NBA."
The other half of what the Warriors market as their "dynamic duo," Jamison, has, at 24, developed into one of the league's top scorers. He worked relentlessly -- and successfully -- to add a consistent jump shot to what had already been a difficult-to-defend inside game. Despite an endless progression of defenses primarily focused on stopping him, and despite the virtual necessity of his hoisting up anywhere from 18 to 30 shots on a nightly basis, he's still managed to shoot a respectable 47 percent from the field. His weakness? He can't stop opponents from putting up similar numbers.
How, for example, would Jamison guard himself?
"I don't think I could," he says with a sigh. And he is probably right.
A genuine, sterling-silver lining to the dark cloud that hovers over the Warriors is Marc Jackson, the 26-year-old rookie center who had played in Europe, where he was assured of playing time, since being selected by the Warriors in the second round of the 1997 draft. Forced into the lineup by injuries to Dampier and Foyle, he almost immediately added a totally new aspect to the Warriors' pivot: offense. A reliable midrange jump-shooter who uses the brute strength of his 6-foot-10, 270-pound frame inside, Jackson erupted for 20 and 27 points in his second and third starts, and has since emerged as the front-runner for the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award. Cowens has declared him the starting center, even when Dampier -- at $7 million per year, the Warriors' most highly paid player -- returns.
Like Jamison, however, Jackson is defensively challenged.
The rest of St. Jean's "young core" consists of: Fortson, 25, who played so brilliantly before his bad foot gave out again; off-season acquisition Bob Sura, 27, a versatile-if-streaky offensive player who struggles at the defensive end of the court; and Vonteego Cummings, 24, the laser-quick backup point guard who has been criticized publicly by Cowens for not running the team's offense well at times. And Cummings shoots 35 percent from the field, even worse than Hughes.
The painful paradox of this year's version of the Warriors is this:
1) They play incredibly hard for coach Dave Cowens, which keeps them close in a lot of games, inflating their hopes, and
2) They are remarkably adroit at losing close games, which leaves them frequently feeling crushed and deflated.
This was never more clear than on Jan. 26, when Seattle, a solid playoff team, even in the NBA's powerful Western Conference, came to the Arena.
On paper, the game was a mismatch.
How, Cowens was asked before tip-off, would the Warriors manage to contain superstar point guard (and Berkeley native) Gary Payton? "Just hope that he stayed out late partying with his buddies," the coach replied, maybe half-joking.
The first quarter did little to dispel any preconceived notions about the mismatch, with Seattle scoring an absurd 38 points. That total, good enough for a nine-point lead out of the gate, resulted from a defense that was inept, both inside and out-. Patrick Ewing, who has looked very old and very slow for most of the season, found the fountain of youth in the first quarter: the Warriors' post defense. Ewing converted all four of his attempts while Seattle's best outside shooter, Brent Barry, and one of its slashers, Ruben Patterson, had little trouble finding, and making, open shots.
For most of the next two quarters, Golden State bobbed in and out of the game, trailing by so many as 15 in the second half. But the Warriors came back furiously, holding Seattle's offense to only 19 fourth-quarter points as Jamison, Jackson, and Mookie Blaylock shot the team back into the game. And after Blaylock's 25-footer cut Seattle's lead to 105-102 with 1:05 remaining, Hughes made the kind of play the Warriors have envisioned since trading for him. He burst into Ruben Patterson's passing lane on the perimeter, intercepted the basketball, raced to the other end, and then soared, leaning toward the hoop and converting an acrobatic scoop shot, while being fouled, in midair.
The Arena erupted. Hughes sank his game-tying free throw, putting the capper on what would have been a thrilling comeback for any team, much less the Warriors. It was the type of spurt that good teams regularly run off to win games against their inferiors. It was ... amazing. Stunned, Seattle called timeout. And then Barry missed a shot, giving Golden State the ball with 23.5 seconds remaining.
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."
The Warriors were slaughtered.
The always-flashy Kings buried them in a wave of no-look passes, give-and-go exchanges, and alley-oop dunks. Jamison managed to score 18 points and grab six boards, but he couldn't stop Webber from scoring. The former Warrior poured in 28 points in just 33 minutes, and provided a few friendly reminders about the All Star snub. Those weren't limited to on-court trash talk (or "smack," to use Jamison's term). In the second half, Webber appeared, larger than life, on the arena's Jumbotron video screen, thanking the packed house for voting him into the All Star game.
At one point, the score was 100-64.
This is what Cowens, who usually starts his post-game news conferences with a rambling address based loosely on the final stat sheet, offered after this one:
"I've got nothing to say."
In the locker room, Jamison -- who drove his car to the game and therefore wasn't in the same rush to run for the team bus as his teammates -- got to relive both the snub and the slaughter for the benefit of newspaper reporters.
Antawn, do you feel you should be representing the Western Conference in the All Star game?
Antawn, why do the Warriors have so much trouble playing the Kings here?
Antawn, what happened ...
When Jamison got to the Arco Arena parking lot, the temperature had dipped enough for each of his breaths to be visible, and the parking lot lights gleamed off his shaved head.
Tough one today, Antawn?
"Undermanned," he said, grinning wistfully as he shook his head. "Injuries, injuries, injuries. All year long. Two years in a row. The same thing.
As bad as the Warriors have been during the past seven years, one Pacific Division team has been worse: the Los Angeles Clippers. During that stretch, the Clippers have finished last five times; the Warriors have finished last twice, with five second-to-last finishes to their credit.
But, this season, both teams generated a lot of hype about finally climbing out of the cellar. The Clippers' optimism was inspired, mostly, by young star Lamar Odom, a gifted, versatile forward; the raw-but-promising center Michael Olowokandi; and the athletic young twentysomethings Corey Maggette, Darius Miles, and Kenyon Dooling, who -- if they ever learn to shoot -- could be stars.
So, on Feb. 7, it surprised none in the crowd of 13,347 when the Warriors (14-33) and Clippers (16-34) played like mirror images in a game that was, despite 21 lead changes and 13 ties, truly difficult to watch, replete with poor shooting, terrible decision-making, and a preponderance of tall, awkward bodies strangely falling all over one another throughout the game.
Either team could have won easily by merely making a reasonable percentage of free throws. (The Warriors shot an abysmal 58 percent; the Clips -- not to be underdone -- shot 46.) Late in the fourth quarter, both squads all but jumped through hoops in a mad dash to lose.
The Warriors, who led by three with 5.7 seconds left, went first. The Clippers have only one reliable three-point shooter, and therefore only one player likely to tie the game in less than six seconds. You wouldn't think that a single, sharp cut from the corner to the top of the three-point arc would be enough to leave that player in the clear. But of course it was, and Eric Piatkowski easily stroked the jump shot, tying the game and leaving the Warriors only 3.2 seconds to spare the fans overtime.
It was a moment that had nothing to do with being undermanned or overmatched. Rather, it had everything to do with being dumb. "It's very simple instructions," Cowens said after the game. "When you're up by three, you don't give anybody -- especially that guy -- an open three."
Luckily, the Clippers are even better at losing games than are the Warriors. Odom, who had outplayed Jamison for most of the night, fouled an off-balance Sura on the left baseline with 0.7 seconds remaining, putting Sura on the free-throw line, where he made one of two shots and won the game. Golden State had been out-Warriored.
The victory improved the Warriors' winning percentage to .313, nearly catching them up to the Clippers (.320) heading into the All Star break.
"That team," Foyle said of the Clippers, "is very, very good. They're young, they're getting better.
"They're really a lot like us."
Really, they are.