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After playoff success, sharp-shooting Warriors are marked men

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
POSTED: Oct 22, 2013 12:38 AM ET

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Stephen Curry averaged better than 23 points a game in 12 playoff games last season.

Their world has changed in ways that they can explain but probably not yet fully comprehend. It's going to be tough to shoot with so many bright lights in their eyes and harder to defend with those big targets strapped to their backs.

Warriors Preview: Curry

The Golden State Warriors have only themselves to blame, of course. They went 47-35 last season despite major injuries, then had a coming-out party in the opening round against the Nuggets, followed by a strong showing in losing the next series to the Spurs. Finally, they landed Andre Igoudala as the highlight of another standout offseason for the front office. The Warriors begin 2013-14 among the elite, not as a playoff hopeful.

Making the postseason is a bare minimum now, not the breakthrough moment that it was in April. There is a lot more pressure now. There is a team needing to prove it can play with that weight.

"In a general manager's role, you're always worried," said Bob Myers, the man in that role. "You worry unnecessarily about a thousand different things. I do believe that the concept that we will be sneaking up on people is now moot. With having some success, people will expect things. We may be a team that is more the hunted rather than the hunter. And with that, it's good. That's where you want to be, obviously. That shows some growth. How will we respond? I think we've got a great staff. [Coach] Mark [Jackson] does a great job of letting the players know that nothing's easy and they have to do their work. I think he'll have them ready to go. We've got a good group of guys."

Beating the Nuggets in the first round -- No. 6 dispatching No. 3 in six games -- is a valuable memory. Playing well at Pepsi Center where Denver lost three times in 41 regular-season outings was big. It showed what was possible, especially with one starter, David Lee, missing most of the series to injury and another, Stephen Curry, hobbled.

The Nuggets increased the intensity and tried to pinball Curry around with a physical defense in true playoff fashion. He more than survived -- 24.3 points and 9.3 assists in the six games, 46.8 percent overall from the field and 43.4 percent on threes -- and he got a sense of what his new life would be like. As the fifth-year point guard gets better, so do the efforts to slow him.

Warriors Preview: Iguoadala

In truth, Curry and the Warriors did not come from nowhere last spring -- he was in the conversation for the All-Star team a few months earlier and they had been a reasonable playoff pick from opening night, no matter how much violining came from Oakland about no one giving Golden State any chance. But they were outsiders trying to make a statement.

Now that the statement has been delivered, so, too, has the focus of opponents.

"No question," forward Harrison Barnes said. "A lot of that goes to the people that we've acquired this season. We made a huge offseason trade [Igoudala in a sign-and-trade] and I think that this team, if we can stay healthy, we have a real chance to make a run. I don't think we're going to sneak up on anybody this year.

"We just have to come prepared and know that we have to play our style of basketball every night. It was easy for us last year to get up for the big games. Other games, maybe we didn't have as much focus. This year, we have to play at a high level every single night."

Or else. Or else they'll get beat up a lot. Or else just winning one round will be something to celebrate.

Three points

Warriors Preview: Front Court

1. That's some point-guard rotation. Not only do the Warriors have Curry, arguably the best shooter in the game and a potential All-Star, but Igoudala could be the second wave. The plan is to give the starting small forward time as the backup to Curry with the expectation he will do well enough to at least contribute minutes in a reserve role there with either Toney Douglas or rookie Nemanja Nedovic. Igoudala can play everywhere except center.

2. The drawback to signing Igoudala, one of the top acquisitions by any team, is that it moves Barnes to the bench immediately after Barnes had a promising rookie season and some very good moments in the playoffs. The risk is that the new job will slow his development. The counter is that Barnes will still play a lot, perhaps as much as before, and may even get more scoring opportunities with the second unit than when sharing shots with Curry, Lee and Klay Thompson.

3. Even with center Andrew Bogut saying he feels great, even with power forward Lee saying he feels great, health concerns remain with the big-man rotation. The issue now is backup center Festus Ezeli, who is expected to be out until approximately midseason after knee surgery. Marreese Speights, who can play both positions, and Jermaine O'Neal were signed in the offseason, but Ezeli's progress from the surgery is an important matter. The first-round pick a year ago has a future.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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