OAKLAND -- A hypothetical question has been making the rounds lately asks if the current Warriors were to play a series of crucial games against the "We Believe" team of 2007, which would prevail.

It is chewy candy for the mind and the answer, for now, is the "We Believe" bunch.

Not because it was more talented; it wasn't. Not because it was more athletic; it wasn't. Not because it shot better; it didn't. Not because it played better defense; it most certainly didn't.

But the "We Believe" team, inferior in so many ways, would have a decisive edge in two elements crucial to success: mental toughness and NBA experience.

Those ingredients are missing from the current Warriors as they stagger through the final weeks of the regular season, and every now and then they've gotten spanked because of it -- most recently in Wednesday's distressing home loss to lowly Sacramento.

These Warriors are destined for the playoffs but still digesting the rules required to gain admittance to the NBA elite, the room where the sign over the entrance says "Grown Men Only."

"We're a playoff team, there's no doubt about it," Richard Jefferson, the senior member of the team, said after practice Thursday. "It's just a matter of us learning and growing. It's the growing process. It's getting hair on your chest. It's your voice cracking. It's about becoming a man."

The "We Believe" squad, led by cocksure Baron Davis and fearless Stephen Jackson, was dominated by men mature in the ways of the league. Al Harrington and Jason Richardson were at their peak. Monta Ellis was the raw firecracker who might start or might come off the bench. That team's blue-collar attitude and junkyard dog mentality offset many of its shortcomings -- most notably lack of raw talent.

Those Warriors played their most important games as if defending their manhood.

That's how they managed to win 16 of their last 21 games and nine of their last 10 to nab the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference in the final game of the season.

That same machismo pushed them past No. 1 seed Dallas in the first round.

The current Warriors lack that kind of rugged spirit. When at their best, draining 3s and sprinting up and down the court and playing actual defense, they operate with orchestral rhythm and precision. They are capable of beating any opponent.

Even then, however, they are missing the grit and toughness so essential to becoming a serious player in the league.

Not the superficial toughness of a Draymond Green flagrant foul or David Lee's hard foul on LeBron James in December or the stray elbow Lee delivered to Dwight Howard on Monday. Those represent little more than stand-your-ground statements.

Yet these Warriors are not completely, um, soft. Andrew Bogut and sixth man Jarrett Jack, in particular, bring an edge that would have fit in with the 2006-07 team. "We Believe" coach Don Nelson, an expert at distinguishing the difference between real toughness and fake toughness, would have loved those two.

But Jack is on a one-year contract, and Bogut still is in the process of blending with his teammates. Can their fortitude spread to others? Would their teammates recognize it and respond?

Real toughness is less related to hard fouls or swinging elbows than to forcing the issue, finding a way, getting it done. It's about embracing the big moment and, as Jackson used to say, "making love to pressure."

It's about, above all, severe intestinal intolerance for unacceptable defeats.

The Warriors believe they'll get to that point, eventually, with maturity.

Meanwhile, they ask fans to be patient, for even if they were reduced to puddles under feral attack by the "We Believe" team, they have good reason to believe they'll someday grow into a team that could exact revenge.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/1montepoole.