True to form, Jackson taking challenges in stride

Feb. 26, 2012 - Starting a coaching career at the NBA level under even the best of circumstances would be daunting. Doing it on the heels of a prolonged lockout, with a brief whirlwind of a training camp and a compressed schedule that allows almost no practice time, well, let's just say Mark Jackson has faced his share of hurdles in his first season on the bench with Golden State.

True to form, however, he has taken it all in stride.

"It is a challenge, but we continue to be a no-excuse basketball team," he said. "Certainly, putting in a new system with a shortened training camp has been a challenge but it has been a challenge we've embraced as a team."

The point guard who helped orchestrate the most successful run in Pacers franchise history, directing four runs to the Eastern Conference Finals and one trip to the NBA Finals from 1995-2000, Jackson returns to Indianapolis as head coach of the Warriors, who face the Pacers Tuesday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"I embrace the incredible memories, the great moments, the great relationships," he said. "It's nothing different for me walking in as coach. The memories are still the same and the moments are still the same. It'll be just me reminiscing on the great teams with a lot of great people.

"Being coached by Larry Brown and Larry Bird, two guys I have great respect for, I certainly learned from both of those guys. And if you think about Donnie Walsh and his ability to handle personalities and to lead, and then you go to my favorite Uncle Mel (Daniels) and his impact on my life, a guy that knows basketball as well as anybody I've been around, knows talent and is an incredible guy. Absolutely all of those guys I've been around in Indiana certainly impact what I do today."

Jackson's ties to his days with the Pacers remain strong. His head athletic trainer, Chad Bergman, was a Pacers ballboy for 13 seasons including Jackson's tenure.

"That's how much my Pacer experience impacted me," he said. "I had to get a guy I was there with."

In a relatively short time in a new job, Jackson nevertheless has had a profound impact on the Warriors. Historically a high-scoring but defensively porous team, Jackson has worked hard to change that reputation. The Warriors are allowing 100.7 points per game, five less than last season.

"I feel real good about the progress because the culture has been changed," he said. "Our mindset is of a defensive-minded team and also a team that works extremely hard and is very disciplined and professional. Our approach puts us in position to have success not only today but moving forward."

It has been a season of ups and downs for Jackson's Warriors. They've beaten the Heat and Bulls but lost to the Bobcats and Nets.

"I'm not going to lose sleep, I'm not going to come in and cuss guys out, I'm going to be even-keel," he said. "I understand there are nights like that. You can beat teams that are great and somehow give one away to a lesser team but at the end of the day there will be days moving forward with my basketball team that we will beat the elite and we will take care of business against teams we're supposed to beat.

"I'm being very patient with the process and understanding we're developing something here and learning lessons as we're moving forward individually and collectively. I'm very excited about the fact we have a great group of guys that worked hard from day one and made it extremely fun for me."

With a 13-17 record, the Warriors stand 12th in the Western Conference but are just three games out of eighth -- one in the loss column. They have prolific backcourt scorers in Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry and are one of the most dangerous 3-point shooting teams in the league -- in part because of former Pacer Brandon Rush, who was traded to the Warriors for Lou Amundson before the season began. Rush leads the league in 3-point percentage at .524 and is averaging 8.4 points in 24.0 minutes off the bench.

"He's been great for us," Jackson said. "Just what we needed, a guy playing the two and the three position, a professional, shooting the lights out, an outstanding defender. He added depth at two positions and we really play him at three positions."

One other roster move, however, has caused something of a sensation. On the first day of Jackson's first training camp, the Warriors cut Jeremy Lin in order to free up salary cap space to pursue a free agent center, reportedly DeAndre Jordan. Lin, in fact, was pulled from the court during the opening practice as the offer was being prepared, so Jackson had virtually no chance to work with him.

Lin later signed with Houston and was cut again before landing in New York, the stage from which Linsanity was launched.

"At the end of the day I'm very happy and proud of what he's doing as a player and as a believer in Christ," Jackson said. "But we made a play for a free agent and I think it's a great opportunity for Jeremy because he would not have had the opportunity to do it in a Warrior uniform. We have our point guard in Steph Curry so it's good for him."

Jackson's focus is not on the past but the future, both short- and long-term. He believes the Warriors can make a run at the playoffs this year, a confidence borne from his history as a player. In 17 NBA seasons, Jackson made the playoffs 14 times with five different teams.

"I've thought playoffs from day one," he said. "That's been my mentality and my approach so I'm going to continue to think that way. I'm going to continue to practice and prepare that way. That's our whole mindset. We are very close."

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