Warriors eye spot among Western Conference elite

OAKLAND — Basketball is back, Dub Nation.

The 2013-2014 NBA season tipped off Tuesday with the Warriors coming off a 47-35 season. After making it to the second round of the playoffs, Golden State is no longer the hunter, but the hunted.

Expectations are soaring amid bold predictions about how far the Warriors can go. With new additions, a healthy roster and a hunger for more, the Dubs have the potential to exceed even inflated expectations.

First and foremost

The Warriors open tonight at home against the Lakers. Yes, it’s a must-win.

Starting the season off right against a Kobe-less Los Angeles team will be huge for Golden State.

With 14 of their first 22 games played on the road, starting the season with a victory against a West coast rival will be key in creating momentum leading into a tough schedule.

Keys to the season

Simply put, Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut need to stay healthy. Period.

Fans will no doubt hold their breath every time Curry goes down, or Bogut takes a charge, and rightly so.

As the face of the Warriors, Curry needs to follow his record-breaking season —most three-pointers in a single season with 272 — with an All-Star effort. Winning when it counts relies heavily on Curry’s glass ankles holding up throughout the long regular season.

The Warriors are literally banking on Bogut being healthy, after committing $36 million last week to the Aussie in a three-year contract extension. After suffering back spasms during the preseason in China, don’t be surprised if Bogut’s minutes are limited early to preserve his body for the playoffs.

Road Warriors

Golden State finished with a 19-22 road record last year, their best since 2007-2008. But if the Warriors want to reach the next level with a higher seed, winning on the road could catapult them from relevant to being dominant.

Developing chemistry

Six new players have joined the Warriors roster: Andre Iguodala, Jermaine O’Neal, Mareese Speights, Toney Douglas, Nemanja Nedovic and Ognjen Kuzmic. Yes, they had all of training camp and preseason to get a feel for each other, but, no, that’s not enough.

The Warriors need to establish a rotation, find a rhythm, and get minutes on the court together in real games before we can see if the offseason moves were in fact good ones.

If the team gels and offensive production transitions into defensive fluidity, this Warriors offseason could go down as one of the best ever.

Difference makers

Iguodala is the major acquisition of the summer for the Warriors. His ability to play multiple positions, make plays and create on both ends of the court is paramount. Most importantly, his all-NBA perimeter defense will no doubt help the Dubs when they need it the most.

Harrison Barnes has been fantastic.  His role as a starter may have changed, but his abilities have not.  Though a foot injury will keep him out of the team’s first two games, Barnes is expected to be the lightning player off the bench when he returns.

David Lee wants to play in — and win — the playoffs.  His first chance at playoff action was cut short last season when he tore his right hip flexor in the first game of the first round against Denver.

Last season Lee led the league in double-doubles (56) and was the Warriors’ lone All-Star player. Lee says he is stronger than ever and in the best shape of his career, so he’s bound to fight even harder to taste post-season action once again.

Still needs work

Currently there isn’t a solid backup point guard on the Warriors roster.  The duties of initiating offense when Curry isn’t running point are going to fall on Iguodala until Nedovic develops and earns minutes, or if the Warriors make a move to fill their fifteenth and final roster position.

Draymond Green played well during the playoffs after spending the summer getting in shape. Green is expected to see an increase in minutes this season, though last season, Green shot just 32.7 percent, a stat that needs to improve as a key bench player.

Kent Bazemore still has long road ahead of him.  He impressed during Summer League as a scorer, but that’s not what the Warriors need. They need Bazemore to improve defensively and become more comfortable getting his teammates involved.  Moving forward he’ll need to be more of a facilitator.

The Warriors tip off at 7:30 p.m. tonight against the Lakers before heading to Los Angeles to face the Clippers Thursday on TNT. Golden State returns to Oracle Saturday night to play the Sacramento Kings.


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