OAKLAND - If the 76ers (14-15) are going to extend their winning streak to four games over the Golden State Warriors in their game tonight at Oracle Arena, they better be prepared to face a team that looks nothing like last season's version of the team (23-43).
Last season the Warriors dropped both meetings with the 76ers by 26 and 22 points. They were an awful defensive team (ranked 20th in opponent field goal) and an even worse rebounding team (ranked 28th).
But second-year coach Mark Jackson has changed all of that, and a little more than a quarter of the way through the season the former point guard is among the leading candidates for the coach of the year.
Jackson has the Warriors defending (ranked fourth in opponent field goal percentage) and rebounding (ranked fourth) this season. With all due respect to Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro (he's supposed to win with that type of talent), Jackson is the early leader for coach of the year.
For Jackson, though, the turning point in the season was a road trip earlier this month similar to the one the Sixers are on now. The Warriors traveled east and went 6-1 with wins over Detroit, Brooklyn, Washington, Charlotte, Miami and Atlanta (the lone loss was at Orlando, surprisingly). It was the first time in franchise history the team has won six games on a road trip.
"That was crucial stretch for us," said Jackson, whose team lost at home – to Orlando – before embarking on the trip. "That built incredible confidence and it unified us even more."