When they were able to keep their key pieces on the court, the surprising Golden State Warriors proved they could play with just about anyone during a breakout 2012-13.
The Los Angeles Lakers have already shown that kind of potential this season - even without Kobe Bryant.
Following an offseason in which they got healthier while adding Andre Iguodala, the Warriors aren't sneaking up on anybody heading into their season opener Wednesday night against the visiting Lakers.
Coming off only its second playoff appearance since 1994, Golden State (47-35) hopes to build on last spring's stunning run to the second round. Led by sharpshooter Stephen Curry, the Warriors stunned a 57-win Denver team in the opening round before losing to eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio in six games.
Curry rose to star status in the playoffs, scoring 27.1 per game and shooting 43.9 percent from 3-point range in his first seven postseason contests. During the regular season, he averaged a career-high 22.9 points with a record 272 3-pointers - three more than Ray Allen's 269 with Seattle in 2005-06.
While Curry avoided any major problems last season after a pair of right ankle surgeries, he sprained his left ankle in the first round against Denver and shot 36.3 percent from the field in his last five playoff games. Those ankle problems, however, seem a distant memory after a strong preseason.
"I think we understand the position we're in," said Curry, who pairs with Klay Thompson (16.6 ppg) in the backcourt. "We played well for a year. That's awesome. But we have to capitalize on that momentum."
Behind David Lee, Andrew Bogut and the newly-acquired Iguodala, Golden State hopes to have a strong frontcourt to compliment Curry. Lee, who averaged 18.5 points and a team-high 11.2 rebounds, has recovered from the torn right hip flexor he suffered in last year's playoff opener.
Although Bogut missed 50 games last season because of various injuries and has been limited by hip and back injuries this preseason, the Warriors signed the center to a three-year extension last week. He averaged a career-low 5.8 points to go with 7.7 rebounds in the regular season, but played well with 7.2 points and 10.9 boards per game in the playoffs.
Bogut had 14 points, 21 rebounds and four blocks in the Game 6 clincher against the Nuggets.
Iguodala, a 2012 All-Star with Philadelphia, left that Denver team to sign a four-year, $48 million deal with Golden State.
"There's no secret, we're a good basketball team," said coach Mark Jackson, who enters his third season. "I'm not going to sit here and lie. We've come a long way. But now is the next step."
Jackson's club can get off to a good start by earning a rare victory over the Pacific Division-rival Lakers (1-0), who opened their season Tuesday with an impressive 116-103 victory over the Clippers.
With Bryant watching in street clothes, Xavier Henry led a balanced scoring effort with a career-high 22 points and Jordan Farmar added 16. Pau Gasol contributed 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers, who put the game away with a 28-8 fourth-quarter run.
The 76 bench points were the most for the Lakers since April 1988.
"We're a deep team, and people don't think we're that good," Henry said. "That always fuels us. People are saying we're going to finish 12th or whatever, but we have a great group of guys who go out there and play hard. We're young. We're athletic. We get after it."
The last time these teams met, Bryant tore his Achilles on a relatively innocent drive to the hoop with 3:06 remaining in a 118-116 victory last April. Still recovering from the injury, he's expected to be out at least the first month of the season.
Curry put up 47 points while hitting 9 of 15 from 3-point range in that contest and averaged 27.5 points and 7.8 assists in the season series.
Golden State will be without one of its backcourt players in this matchup with Harrison Barnes nursing a left foot injury.
The Warriors dropped three of four to the Lakers last season and 58 of the last 70 meetings overall.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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