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Golden State Warriors guard Baron Davis goes up for a dunk in the 1st quarter of their game with the Dallas Mavericks at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Tuesday, April 17. (Bob Larson/Contra Costa Times)
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OAKLAND -- Tuesday evening got off to an auspicious start for the Warriors. And by auspicious, we refer to the magic moment when Dallas Mavericks head coach Avery Johnson turned in a lineup card that included, and we quote: Jose Barea, Maurice Ager, Sleepy, Dopey and Doc.

Inactive for the Mavericks were MVP-in-waiting Dirk Nowitzki and jump-shooting wing man Jerry Stackhouse. Additionally, it was noted on the lineup sheet distributed to the media that key Dallas cogs Erick Dampier and Josh Howard "will not dress."

Kinky.

It seemed everyone at Oracle Arena was ready to party. The fans, who battled commute traffic and Oakland A's tailgaters. The Warriors, carrying the banner for a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since Michael Jordan's first retirement. The Mavericks, winners of a league-best 66 games this season and of no mind to take an honest stab at No. 67. The Warrior Girls, dressed out in orange hot pants only slightly more demure than "will not dress."

Given the nature of the, um, competition, a Golden State victory wasn't so much anticipated as it was presupposed. If not at the opening tip, then at the first quarter horn (Warriors 30, The Replacements 15).

But there was suspense to be found, 600 miles to the southeast. There the Phoenix Suns were fielding a representative lineup against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Warriors' chief pursuers in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It was a nice gesture, but it didn't work out for the Warriors.


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The Clippers won. The race for the final playoff spot will go down to tonight's final games.

Apparently fate is intent on squeezing every last drop out of the Warriors' 12-season playoff drought.

"We're still in good position," Al Harrington said. "We have a winnable game.

"Guys are happy now, but when we get on the plane it's a business trip."

It's a pretty tricky bit of business at that. The Warriors are headed to Portland, where they are 0-1 this season. There they have to win against a Trail Blazers team that has shut down almost every functional big man -- Zach Randolph, LaMarcus Aldridge, Joel Priscilla -- it has.

OK, the Warriors don't exactly have to win. But if they lose, and if the Clippers win their home game against New Orleans, it will create a two-way tie for eighth place in the conference -- conceivably a three-way tie if the seventh-place Lakers lose their game at Sacramento. And since none of the tie-breakers fall the Warriors' way, it would mean this season would wind up like every other in the team's sad recent history.

Now would you like the bad news?

"I think we're vulnerable," coach Don Nelson said. "I don't know why. I just have that feeling. We've won a bunch of games (three in a row, seven of the past eight). We've fought the good fight. I think it'll be one of our toughest games of the season."

Nelson's feeling of dread is objective, based on intuition honed over decades spent in the NBA and six months spent with his current crop of Warriors.

That dread has become reflexive with Warriors fans. After all, it has been 13 years since their team last reached the playoffs. So long ago that general manager Chris Mullin was a player here. So long ago that Don Nelson was the coach (ver. 1.0). So long ago that an alternately entertained and disgruntled fan base wondered, Why can't these guys get past the second round of the playoffs?

That said, the fans put on a happy face throughout Tuesday's farce, cheering throughout as if the outcome was in doubt, standing at the end as confetti rained down from the rafters.

That could be construed as whistling in the dark. Whereas the players have a pretty firm grasp on what they're up against.

"We like our matchups," Baron Davis said. "We like who we are and what we represent, and what we're trying to do, with our coach and our coaching staff. We give ourselves a chance."

"We're going to go home," Matt Barnes said, "we're going to get some rest, then we're going to go up and beat Portland."

And Nelson's feeling of dread? "He should be concerned," Harrington said.

Reason being? "Us thinking it's a win already," Jason Richardson said. "Not even taking them seriously. We can't let down. We have to go up and be prepared."

Good answer. What happened Tuesday was too easy. Something as nasty as a 12-year playoff drought dies hard.

"We are doing no celebrating," Nelson said.

Not exactly, "I guarantee it." But hey, he's the boss.

Contact Gary Peterson at gpeterson@cctimes.com.