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Not-Tanking Warriors Still Lose to Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers 120-112

Game story from tomorrow’s paper

If Sunday’s 120-112 loss to the host Los Angeles Lakers showed anything, it’s that Warriors players aren’t interested in tanking.

With Golden State’s first-round draft pick hanging in the balance, many Warriors fans are hoping their team loses games. Their team is no doubt obliging, having now lost five straight and 10 of its last 12.

But Jackson is happy to report it’s not because they’re tanking.

“It’s important for us in the locker room to leave that outside the locker room,” Jackson said. “Leave it off the court. It has nothing to do with us. … . Their thought process shouldn’t be draft choice and tanking games.”

Golden State opened April, the final month of the regular season, in a familiar position: headed for the draft lottery. That, of course, sparks an annual debate. With the playoffs out of the question and draft positioning at stake, should the Warriors embrace losing for a better draft pick?

That question looms especially in Warriors land since Golden State needs to land one of the top seven picks in order to keep its 2012 first-round selection. Many fans have been vocal about wanting to lose. “Tanking” has become a trending topic on social media and the blogosphere. Many fans even cheer for opposing teams at Oracle Arena.

Certainly, the chants only figure to get louder as Sunday’s loss, however valiant and hard-fought, left the Warriors’ 2.5 games behind New Jersey for the seventh-worst record in the NBA. For that matter, Golden State is three games behind Toronto for fourth-worst.

If Golden State lands the No. 8 pick or lower, it goes to Utah based on a trade from 2008. The lower the Warriors finish in the final standings, the better their chances are of keeping their first-round pick.

“I understand it as a fan,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “I grew up in New York City and I was a fan, obviously, of the New York teams. And I’m still a sports fan. So I get that mindset – as a fan. But as a fan, I wouldn’t want my team, the people that’s in the battle, to have that mindset. But I totally understand it.”

Still, Jackson said it’s dangerous to buy into that mindset. That’s why he’s noticeably upset after tank-worthy performances such as Friday’s home loss to New Jersey. That’s why, despite his anemic front line, he keeps rookie Jeremy Tyler’s minutes down and won’t play forward Chris Wright or NBA Development League call-up Keith Benson save for garbage minutes.

“You can’t ask guys to shut it down today,”Jackson said, “and then tomorrow tell them to put their foot on the gas pedal and never quit.”

Jackson has something working in his favor. Most of his roster wouldn’t benefit from tanking. The Warriors have six guys playing for a contract (or an extension) next season and three rookies trying to establish themselves in the league.

What’s more, Jackson’s best player available, power forward David Lee, isn’t the type to mail it in. Lee finished with 27 points, seven assists and six rebounds in 41 minutes.

Certainly, the Warriors didn’t quit Sunday. They still gave up the most points they’ve given up all season Sunday. They still got lit up by Kobe Bryant for 40 points. They still got outrebounded by 21 and allowed 53.7 percent shooting.

But they didn’t quit, which is what matters to Jackson.

Golden State trailed by as much as 15 points in the third quarter and entered the fourth down 89-76. But the Warriors made a game of it with a 20-8 run over the first five minutes of the final period. Guard Klay Thompson – who finished with 18 points on 8 of 16 shooting – capped the run with a fast-break layup at the 7:02 mark, cutting the Lakers’ lead to 97-96.

A 12-3 Lakers run, capped with a 3-pointer and a stare from Kobe Bryant, put the Warriors back down by double-digits, 109-99 with 3:44 to play.

But Golden State answered with another run. With 1:21 left in the game, the ball made its way to Warriors swingman Richard Jefferson. After he drilled the 3-pointer, cutting the deficit to three, Golden State’s bench erupted as Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown called a timeout.

In that moment, tanking was the furthest thing from their mind. And that’s exactly how Jackson likes it.

“I’m proud of this group,”Jackson said. “Not just tonight but all year long. We’ve had every excuse tailor-made for us and never used it. Tonight, once again, we battled and put ourselves in position.”

 

* Center Andris Biedrins returned to action after missing the last seven games with a strained right groin. He totaled just over 18 minutes, finishing with five rebounds and a steal.

Biedrins initially sustained the injury March 19 against visiting Minnesota.

 

*Warriors rookie guard Charles Jenkins left the game midway through the third quarter with a left knee contusion after banging knees with Lakers big man Pau Gasol. Though he was able to return, according to a Warriors official, Jenkins sat out the rest of the way. He finished with 10 points and six assists in 22 minutes.

In his stead, guard Nate Robinson shined. Robinson had 12 points and four assists in the fourth quarter, including four 3-pointers. Robinson finished with 17 points and seven assists in 26 minutes.

 

* Rookie center Mickell Gladness signed his contract that guarantees him for the rest of the season. Then he promptly left the team.

A family matter caused Gladness to miss Sunday’s game atLos Angeles. He’s expected back in the next few days.

Gladness initially joined the Warriors on March 22 when he signed a 10-day contract. In his six games thus far withGoldenState, he’s totaled 12 points, eight rebounds and six blocks in 44 minutes.

Marcus Thompson