Mavericks Warriors Basketball2008-09 record: 29-53, 10th place in the Western Conference

Head Coach: Don Nelson

Who’s New? Stephen Curry, Acie Law, Speedy Claxton, Devean George, Mikki Moore

Who’s Gone? Jamal Crawford, Marco Belinelli

I’ve already gone on record stating that I believe the Warriors will finish with more than 25-30 wins this season, which is the low baseline established for this team by most of the journalists and bloggers out there filing their season previews.

Why am I so confident? There are a myriad of reasons, but my main motivation behind this belief can be found in what transpired between January 23 and February 21 and March 11 and April 1 of last season.

During those two separate stretches of the season — nearly two months worth of play — the Warriors had a record of 12-13. Not great, but not terrible. Not good enough, not nearly good enough, to even sniff the playoffs in the West, but that .480 winning percentage during that time is enough to extend this team a little more optimism than 25-30 wins to this season.

What was so special about Jan. 23-Feb. 21 and March 11-April 1? Those were the games, 25 in all, in which Monta Ellis was healthy and played. That’s it. It was a simple matter of the Warriors being able to send a healthy, complete lineup onto the court.

I really believe that for all that ails the Warriors, the main reason the 2008-09 season spiraled out of control so quickly was health.

We can probably all agree that Monta Ellis is the Warriors’ most talented player on the roster right now. Take him out of the lineup last season and the Warriors were atrocious.

The Warriors’ record without Monta in the lineup? 17-40. Good for a .298 winning percentage. Project that over a full season and you finish with 24 wins. Kind of similar to the number the prognosticators are throwing out for the Warriors this season.

The Warriors’ record with Monta in the lineup? 12-13, a .480 winning percentage. Over a full season, that’s 39 wins. 39-43 is closer to the record I predict the Warriors will earn in 2009-10.

In my opinion, 25 games is a large enough sample size to at least give my theory a little credence. And don’t forget … it wasn’t just Monta. Three other Warriors stars — Stephen Jackson, Corey Maggette and Andris Biedrins — missed significant time last season due to injury. Maggette missed 31 games, Jackson missed 23 and Biedrins 20. It was very difficult for the Warriors to establish any kind of chemistry on the court, any kind of consistency in the rotation when so many of their best players were missing so many games due to injury.

nelsonjacksonThere are a lot of reasons preseason predictors will cite to persuade you to give up on this Warriors team. No defense. Lousy front office. Unmotivated coach. Malcontent star players. No leadership. The list goes on and on. Some of these are legitimate. Some of them are wait-and-see. Others just aren’t true. What seems true to me is that this Warriors season depends most heavily on the health of its players.

Here’s the probable starting five for Wednesday’s season opener against the Houston Rockets (Oracle Arena, 7:30 p.m., CSN Bay Area):

PG-Stephen Curry

SG-Monta Ellis

SF-Stephen Jackson

PF-Corey Maggette (Anthony Randolph if/when he’s healthy)

C-Andris Biedrins

Bench-Kelenna Azubuike, Anthony Morrow, Ronny Turiaf, C.J. Watson

That team looks talented enough and deep enough to play .500 ball this season. Who knows? If the Warriors get some breaks — Nellie is motivated, Jackson behaves, the rotation gels — and this team is good enough to challenge for a playoff spot.

Seriously.

Don’t believe me? Look at the last team to make the playoffs in the West last season. The No. 8 seed was the Utah Jazz, at 48-34. Let’s compare the two teams.

80391795MC051_Utah_Jazz_v_LPG-Stephen Curry vs. Deron Williams, advantage: Utah

SG-Ronnie Brewer vs. Monta Ellis, advantage: Warriors

SF-Andrei Kirilenko vs. Stephen Jackson, advantage: Warriors

PF-Carlos Boozer vs. Corey Maggette/Anthony Randolph, advantage: Utah

C-Mehmet Okur vs. Andris Biedrins, advantage: push

Bench: Paul Millsap, Ronnie Price, Kyle Korver, C.J. Miles vs. Azubuike, Morrow, Turiaf, Watson, advantage: push

Coach: Jerry Sloan vs. Don Nelson, advantage: Jazz

Doesn’t seem like such a lopsided mismatch to me. If Nelson’s motivated this season and coaches the way he did two and three years ago, that coaching matchup is a push, too. So, if the Warriors are healthy, they match up with the second tier of talented teams in the West.

That’s reason enough to be excited for the upcoming season.

Season prediction: 40-42, 10th in the Western Conference

MORE FEARLESS PREDICTIONS

Who will lead the Warriors in scoring this season?

I know I’m not going out on a limb here, but it’s got to be Monta Ellis. He’s a spectacular talent and will get the minutes and the touches to put a lot of points up on the board. My prediction for Monta this season? 21 points per game.

What should we expect from Anthony Randolph?

anthonyrandolphThat depends on Randolph’s health. He doesn’t seem to think his back issues are a problem, and hopefully he’s right, but back injuries can be troublesome, so it’s hard to predict. If Randolph is healthy, I think Nelson will keep him in the starting lineup and play him 30 minutes per game. I think he should play more, but if Randolph can get 30, that’s OK for his second season. If he plays 30 minutes a game and is healthy, here’s what you’ll see from the kid: 13 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal per game. In other words, you better hope he’s on your fantasy basketball roster.

How about Stephen Curry?

It will be an up-and-down season for the rookie point guard out of Davidson. He is expected to begin the season as the starting point guard, but I think he’ll have to play really well to keep it. Nelson doesn’t like to play rookies and I think Curry will have some growing pains this season that will inspire Nelson to pull him out of the starting lineup more than once. Curry will show some very exciting potential this season, but he’s probably going to continue to struggle at times with his shot and I think he’s going to turn the ball over a lot. Expect Curry to play about 25 minutes per game, and have averages of 11 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.5 turnovers. He’ll also shoot around 40 percent from the field.

Will Stephen Jackson behave?

Yes, I think he will. Jackson is a different cat, there’s no doubt about it. He speaks his mind, he’s unflinchingly honest and unapologetic, but I think he’ll play hard and he’ll steer clear of controversy for the most part. I don’t think he’ll be traded, because I don’t think the Warriors will get anything close to fair-market value for him. And I think the Warriors will win enough this season, and stay close enough to the playoff chase to keep him motivated and on his best behavior.

Most Valuable Player: Monta Ellis

On the Rise: Anthony Randolph

In decline: Corey Maggette

Best of the Bench: Anthony Morrow

Post your season predictions in the comments. Record, stats, MVP, whatever you like.