What a riot: Warriors winning for a change

— -- According to sources familiar with the bad guys' way of thinking, they were not rioting in Oakland because the Raiders lost the Super Bowl. They were rioting because the Golden State Warriors won three straight games. It only seemed like reckless looting and careless disregard for personal property, but in reality it was joyous celebration because Thunder by the Bay finally has arrived. I mean, three straight wins. By the Golden State Warriors. Over meaningful opponents. Hell, I even threw a chair or two around my house in unbridled anticipation of a fourth consecutive victory. That they didn't get it, because Oakland native Gary Payton showed utter disregard for his hometown by bombing a 3-pointer in the final seconds Tuesday night, was probably just as well. If the Warriors had won that game, the city of Oakland would have needed to call in the National Guard. After all, I've been touting the Warriors as the team to watch in the Western Conference for, what, five years now? Finally, I can say I told you so. At 20-24, the Warriors are on the verge of matching their victory total (21) for all of last season, and they've already eclipsed their totals for 2000-01 (17), 1999-00 (19) and 1997-98 (19). If that's not reason enough to burn a car or 10, I don't know what is. Take a look at the standings. You won't believe it -- I barely do, and I'm their biggest supporter without handcuffs on. The Warriors are a tick behind the Los Angeles Lakers, and four games out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot, slowly creeping up on the Houston Rockets, whose fans are so apathetic they didn't even have the good sense to assail a fast-food restaurant when they landed the No. 1 pick in the draft. How lame are they? But the fans in Oakland are beside themselves with joy, now that the Warriors have won, in succession, games over the Lakers, the New Jersey Nets and now the Utah Jazz. In the esoteric stat of the week, it was the first time in 30 years that a team had beaten both NBA Finals teams in back-to-back nights. Before that, they split a pair of games with Sacramento (an L) and Minnesota, meaning they won four of five games against playoff-bound teams. This is their best season since 1993-94, when they went to the playoffs despite that little rift between Chris "I don't recall if I recall, Your Honor, but whatever I can say that makes me look as innocent as Ollie North" Webber and Don Nelson. Since starting 1-6, they have won 11 of 17 behind Antawn Jamison, Earl Boykins and Gilbert Arenas, the upcoming flavor du jour of the free-agent season.

We realize we have a long way to go. And the minute we start thinking we're close, we're in trouble."
Antawn Jamison
"We do take the philosophy of improvement," Jamison said. "But in the back of everybody's minds we know that we're not that far from competing for that (eighth) spot. We realize we have a long way to go. And the minute we start thinking we're close, we're in trouble. But it's in the backs of everybody's minds." Want to know the real sign that this team suddenly is for real? It had a real, honest-to-goodness controversy this week, and folks actually cared. A game after getting their minutes significantly reduced, Arenas and Jason Richardson both skipped practice, ostensibly because one was sick and the other was injured. However, neither called to say he was missing practice. Coincidentally, or not, both share the same agent, Dan Fegan, who called in their stead. Neither player said he was making a statement because his time has been reduced -- and Arenas' comes in his contract year, so he can't be feeling too kindly toward Boykins right about now. However, it seems a little too convenient that both came up lame on the same day, for the same practice, the morning after they missed out on the fourth quarter of an important victory over the Nets. But guess what? In true Warriors fashion, they put aside all the distraction and went out to beat the Jazz last Saturday night. It was something of an altered course for coach Eric Musselman, who has taken a hard-line stance all season when dealing with players. Instead of suspending Arenas and Richardson, though, Musselman accepted their explanations, fined them each $2,500 and allowed both to start against the Jazz, which was apparently the right thing to do because they won. Which, of course, led to city-wide celebration the next night. McMillan gets tough with Sonics
Nate McMillan
Sick of his losing record and the attitudes of his young players, Seattle SuperSonics coach Nate McMillan threw Jerome James out of practice Monday and said he is taking on a new attitude. "I'm coaching," McMillan said. "I'm a coach. I'm going to stop doing as much counseling as I have to do. There are some things that are going on that we have to grow up and accept. I want to coach this team. I don't want to babysit or have to do all the one-on-one sessions that I'm having to do with this group. It's time for guys to grow up and mature." Sore subjects
The skills contests at All-Star weekend should be interesting, considering a good deal of the participants are injured. In the Long Distance Shootout, Brent Barry has tendinitis that has him on the verge of the injured list, Wesley Person has missed a week with an injured index finger, Antoine Walker has that knee injury that will keep him sidelined two weeks, and defending champion Peja Stojakovic is now over the sore arch that kept him out the first part of the season. In the Slam Dunk contest, Amare Stoudemire has a jammed right big toe and Richardson, the defending champion, has a sore groin that caused him to miss that practice with the Warriors. Another call in MJ's favor
Michael Jordan
We finally have proof that the league's officials must give Michael Jordan preferential treatment. In the lawsuit filed by Jordan's former mistress, Karla Knafel, the lawsuit states that the two intially had contact when referee Ed Rush met Knafel at a bar, bragged that he knew Jordan personally and then called Jordan's room to prove it. Who knows what happened with Knafel and Rush that night, but if something did, wouldn't that make Rush beholden to Jordan? Take the fifth, Donald
Speaking of lawsuits, in his case against former coach Bill Fitch, Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling repeatedly stated under oath that he does not know what goes on inside his own team and that he makes no personnel decisions, leaving it up to Elgin Baylor and Andy Roeser. In a Sports Illustrated story last July about the trade talks between Cleveland and the Clippers, Gordon Gund gets on the phone with Sterling to discuss swapping Andre Miller. My question is: Why isn't Sterling charged with the same crime with which Chris Webber is charged?

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.