OAKLAND – Warriors coach Mark Jackson says, “This is a team I believe God has His hands all over,” an eyebrow-raising statement even from someone so conversant in spiritual matters, even from someone who is also a pastor and who named his daughter Heavyn and one of his three sons Christian. And so we are reminded again that he is also very conversant in bold.
But welcome to the mortal part of the Golden State season. Andrew Bogut is back, again, and trying to prove himself, again, and there will be a lot of ice baths for his lower left leg before that happens. He has to manage expectations while Jackson has to manage minutes.
Bogut is playing with a limit of 25 minutes per game, an approach scheduled for at least five more contests until the cap is re-evaluated during the All-Star break. There has already been one aborted comeback from the fractured left ankle and subsequent microfracture surgery, the four games at the start of the season before it was decided the leg needed a lot more healing, and all involved are being especially cautious this time, even as Bogut contrasts the difference between now and late-October as “Night and day.” The ankle, he says, is “110 percent stronger.”
The first three readings have been very encouraging for all concerned and not particularly challenging on the stopwatch for Jackson in two of the three, a 12-point win over the Raptors on Monday in Bogut’s first game back and a 20-point win over the Suns on Saturday. But there was the one in between.
Thursday against the Mavericks at Oracle Arena, the Warriors led only 82-79 entering the fourth quarter and Bogut was already at 18:31 of the 25. This time, unlike the other two, the end of the game mattered for something more than getting Bogut some run. It especially mattered because Memphis had lost earlier that night and beating Dallas would get Golden State within a half-game of the Grizzlies for No. 4 in the Western Conference.
Jackson sent Bogut in for Carl Landry, who has played very well with All-Star David Lee in the small-ball lineup, with 7:37 remaining and the Warriors up six. Bogut came out with 3:17 left. He went back in with 2:48 showing.
Jackson had managed the minutes just right – Bogut played 25 minutes 29 seconds, one tick away from what would have rounded off to 26 minutes, and Golden State won 100-97. Bogut, though he did not look in rhythm on offense, even contributed a blocked shot with 6.2 seconds remaining and the Warriors up one, along with another block in the fourth and three in all.
“It’s all on feel,” Jackson said. “I try to keep him loose, try and not give him long stints on the bench, and it’s tough. But I just want him as a player to be honest how he’s feeling. Other than that, it’s just pretty much a feel or a flow.
“Even with a great roll, I’m not going to ride him extended minutes. I’m going to be smart. Obviously there’s going to be times where he’s going to want to stay in there. There’s going to be times when I’m going to want him to stay in there. But we’ve got to be smart with understanding where we’re going and not where we’re at.”
Bogut, remembering the frustration of the opening weeks, not only is willing to deal with the time restriction, but said he has no plans before the break to ask that the limit be relaxed or completely removed. This is working for him too.
“The strength is the big thing that I notice,” he said. “It’s much stronger. I can jump. My second-effort jumps can kind of respond well. The first time, it just didn’t respond to that. I don’t really look into it that way, where it will send me back (to aggravating the injury). I think I’ve passed it, but I’ve still got to be smart and professional when it comes to doing my rehab. On top of all the trainings and games, I’m still coming in early and doing my rehab. I can’t forget about that now that I’m playing – ‘Now that I’m playing, I’m just going to practice and play games.’ I still come early and do my rehab on my ankle and make sure it stays healthy.”
Numbers back him up: eight rebounds and four blocks in 24 minutes in Toronto, five rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes against the Mavericks, and seven rebounds and three blocks in 25 minutes against the Suns. The rejections would be an indicator anyway for someone who thinks his biggest impact the second half of the season will come on defense, but they are especially noteworthy as a sign he is able to react and elevate quick enough to turn opponents away in the lane.