Updated: January 24, 2013, 12:20 PM ET

1. With Andrew Bogut, Are Warriors Contenders?

By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com/TrueHoop Network

OAKLAND -- The Bay Area is ecstatic over the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers, but wholly flabbergasted by the ascendent Golden State Warriors. The fans will freely admit to being aghast at how the Warriors can beat the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder 104-99, after having lost to that same squad in five straight prior meetings. The coach and his players, however, will not betray such shock.

Mark Jackson espouses only belief, at least publicly. It seemed comical last season, but nobody's laughing at his bold proclamations this season. When Jackson, after the game, says that the Warriors are a "no limit" basketball team, it's fair to wonder whether he means it literally -- as in championship-literally.

Because, the Warriors-as-good is a surprising enough reality to make reality feel a bit unsettled and slippery. Basic competence seemed so impossible for this franchise that going beyond competence makes a title feel not all that far from feasible. We're in uncharted territory here. Even the "We Believe" team had a well-defined ceiling.

Jackson is a walking advertisement for the power of positive thinking, which may be how he swayed owner Joe Lacob into hiring him. Lacob is a similar high-energy, glass-half-full salesman. He can often be seen on the Oracle sideline, tempting the rare owner technical with his wild displays of enthusiasm.

Golden State Warriors
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesStephen Curry and the Warriors did it again.

Lacob was near the locker room after the victory, eyes widening as he described the Warriors: "They just battle, battle, battle," his voice fogging into a Ray Lewis-rasp, while emphasizing the last repetition of the word. Lacob wouldn't cop to calling this outcome, though: "I'm not sure what to expect anymore. I'm just going with it."

Championship-contention probably can't be reasonably entertained unless Andrew Bogut comes back. Bogut looked spry in warmups, running around the court and hitting shots on various drills. Jackson was coy on the matter of whether a Bogut return could vault this team into a championship strata: "I have no answers for a Andrew Bogut question. I know what he was in the past. And I know how he could help us. And we look forward to him one day coming back."

The game itself was closely contested, with the Thunder leading for much of the second half. Kevin Durant scored a frighteningly easy 33 points on 17 shots. It's an effortless-looking brilliance that has become routine for Durant.

It wasn't enough, though, not with the Warriors closing up driving lanes before Russell Westbrook could get to them. Not with the Warriors forcing 19 turnovers, including a game-sealing steal of a Durant pass by Stephen Curry. Curry's defense was often the butt of many jokes. Perhaps even that is changing in this new Warriors reality.

The threat of Curry's shot is the engine that keeps this offense chugging. Though, Oklahoma City accidentally gave him all the open 3-pointers he could ask for. Curry's final six 3s rimmed out, and he ended 3-of-14 from downtown on the evening.

You would assume a loss, if not a bad one, based on that statistic alone. Instead, Curry found just enough points in the paint to avoid a bad performance, while David Lee and Carl Landry found valuable put-backs in that same area.

Jarrett Jack was also huge down the stretch, as he often has been in the tensest of moments. Jack carries himself with a team-defining confidence that borders on recklessness. He and Landry comprise a bench tandem that plays like it should be starting somewhere else.

Speaking of confidence and recklessness, Curry celebrated a difficult third-quarter and-1 with what might be described as a "knee shimmy." It was spastic, it was funny, and it was at dwarf-height because the Warriors point guard did his dance from the ground. Oracle reverberated with glee as Curry bounced his shoulders and David Lee rushed over with his congratulations.

When asked about it, Curry said, "I don't even remember doing whatever I did, so I have to check the footage on that one." He followed that up with, "I don't even know what it is, man. It's truly genuine." Upon the "genuine" declarative, he flashed a cheshire cat smile and looked down at the ground.

Nobody's quite sure what to make of the Warriors, but the enthusiasm in the Bay Area is as genuine, fun and unexpected as a celebratory knee shimmy.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss' work appears on WarriorsWorld. Follow him @SherwoodStrauss

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