After a temporary detour from the madness they caused last spring when they shook up the NBA playoffs, the Warriors are pleased to report that, once again, they are who we thought they were.
Steph Curry is, indeed, a legit MVP candidate and the purest shooter the game has seen in years if not ever.
Andre Iguodala was the most important off-season pickup in basketball and exactly what this team needed at the right time.
David Lee is once again low on highlights and high on consistency and currently off the trade market, in case some salivating teams were wondering.
And the Warriors are making their move in the West by taking advantage of good health (about time) and an easy schedule to make a convincing case for a top-three finish in the conference, which isn't out of the question. They're the hottest team in the NBA because they've finally recaptured the magic dust they inhaled last May when Curry and Company became the most fun-to-watch team West of Miami.
"We have our identity back," said Iguodala. "We still have more room for improvement and that's why I'm not getting too excited yet. But we can beat anyone in the league."
The Warriors can grind, as they did recently when Iguodala finished off the Hawks on a buzzer-beater, and they can flourish in big games, as they did the night before in Miami. The beauty of the Warriors is how they're developing into the rare team that can score in the up-tempo and half-court equally as well. And now they're getting better defensively -- currently 11th in the league in points allowed -- and showing a measure of toughness, both mentally and physically.
In short, the Warriors may well end up as the best team of the year, as in calendar year 2014, between now and the playoffs. Hard to argue with nine straight wins heading into a Tuesday game in Milwaukee, and a roster that, for the first time all season, isn't missing an important player or two.
"We were a game over .500 at one point," said coach Mark Jackson, acknowledging the Warriors when they stood at 14-13, "and nobody was really playing well. Some guys struggled individually. Some weren't happy with their roles. We were just dealing with the same things that happen to other teams throughout the league. The usual ups and downs of a season.
"But nobody let go of the rope, and when that happens, good things happen. Guys kept showing up and staying late in the gym. We fought through it."
Curry, Harrison Barnes and Iguodala missed games with various bruises. Lee looked like he was in a fog, and some observers wondered if he was bothered by the trade rumors that followed him since last year's playoff run. Also, the Warriors' schedule was brutal in the first two months. Just three of their first 31 games were against the East. They saw the Spurs and OKC twice each, and also a pair against the Grizzlies, who somehow play the Warriors tough (Memphis won both games). In addition, 15 of the first 27 were on the road.
It was enough to make you wonder if the Warriors were due for a slip after stunning the Nuggets in the first round last year, then pushing the Spurs in the playoffs and capturing the attention of the NBA because of the Splash Brothers and just being a fresh face among contenders.
"Our first couple of months was all about trying to find a groove and momentum," said Iguodala. "We just couldn't get into a groove and then we had to deal with the injuries, which stalled us."
Iguodala brought leadership and defense and his transition from Denver has been a smooth one, aside from the hamstring injury. He's a proven scorer but unselfishly is attempting only seven shots a game, careful not to disrupt Curry (18) and Klay Thompson (16). The best news is Iguodala hasn't hurt the progress of Barnes, which was the fear when the Warriors signed him in the off-season. Barnes is getting 31 minutes a night and 11 shots here in his second season and has no reason to look over his shoulder.
Yet, the resurgence of the Warriors is mainly due to Curry and Lee, who'll probably be the team's only reps at the All-Star Game next month.
The Warriors won big games in the postseason despite missing Lee with an abdominal injury for most of the playoffs, and that fed the notion of Lee being expendable. Teams began calling the Warriors, but his contract (two more years, $30 million) gave some a reason to pause. Anyway, it's a moot point, because the Warriors aren't trading Lee and he's once again one of the more underrated players in basketball, averaging 19 points and almost 10 rebounds (with 32 and 14 against the Heat).
"He didn't play his best basketball early on," said Jackson. "His numbers were there but it wasn't the same. But over the last 13 or 15 games he's been as good as any power forward in the league."
And Curry: He's box office. That's the highest praise any professional athlete can receive, aside from being called a champion. How many players would you pay to see before him? We'll spot you LeBron, easy. Kevin Durant? OK, fine. Then who?
"Sometimes I get caught up in watching him," said Iguodala. "I knew he was good before I came here. But to see it up close, every day? Amazing."
Curry took part in pre-game warmups last week in Atlanta and returned to the locker room with a frown. What the hell happened?
"I took 100 shots," he said, "and only made 96."
Well, unless they were all layups (they weren't), that was astonishing. It summed up the dedication and attention to detail that has made Curry dangerous from anywhere on the court. Lots of players can only score in certain spots and only if they're in a certain rhythm. Curry can hit from anywhere, with a variety of shots (jumpers, teardrops, etc.) and when he's off-balance. That sets him apart.
This year, he's a more accomplished passer. His assists are up to 9.6 (his career average was 6.3 before this season) and he's putting the Warriors in position to win with his passing along with his shooting. Curry's shooting percentages: 44 from the floor, 46 from three-point, 90 from the line.
As a creative dribbler who confuses his defender, a passer and shooter, Curry is an offensive force and one of the toughest checks in basketball. No wonder the Heat dumped praise on him after he dumped 32 points (and 14 rebounds) on them, with LeBron providing the classic line: "The light he has is more than green, it's florescent."
Last season Jackson campaigned unsuccessfully to get Curry into the All-Star Game and angrily called out the coaches who didn't vote for him. This time around, Jackson can bag two campaigns: All-Star and MVP. Curry is a slam dunk for one, and on the radar for the other.
"When we chase down team goals, individual goals will happen as a result," Jackson said.
One goal for the Warriors is to have home-court advantage for at least the first two rounds. Oracle Arena is a boombox for big games and has become one of the tougher places to visit. With Chris Paul missing from the Clippers for the next few weeks with a shoulder injury and the Blazers cooling off, the Warriors could rise to No. 3 in the West by the All-Star break. Everything is falling right for them, besides their shots. They're healthy and 17 of their next 27 games are against the East.
You know that aura the Warriors had last May? You think maybe they've regained it?
"With all due respect," said Jackson, "we never lost it."