I didn’t realize it until halftime. Up in the mezzanine of Oracle we watched as the Nets claimed a halftime lead over the defending champs. My mom’s connections came through with some tickets for us, and she accompanied me to the game. But as the Dubs warmed up at halftime she asked me, “Zaza hasn’t played?”
It’s become clear that the Warriors have made conscious efforts to explore their options at center. Since the All-Star break, Javale McGee has started every game, bringing Zaza Pachulia off the bench. In the short amount of games played with this change, Pachulia has also been the first center off the bench, usually until the end of the first quarter, letting David West pick up his usual 2nd quarter minutes.
But never have they completely iced him for a game. Up until February 22nd, Zaza’s started every game he’s played, and that lineup liberalism has been both a strength and a weakness for Kerr. I still lose sleep thinking about Anderson Varejao & Festus Ezeli in the 4th quarter in a Finals game 7. But the changes at center gives me hope that he is thinking about going with his mind more than his gut.
As of now, their best center come playoff time is Draymond Green, but there are still 18 regular season games to be played. There’s also a potential problem in Houston, as the Rockets continue push for the top seed in the west. It looked like the Warriors were positioning Jordan Bell to take the starting spot, before his re-injuring his ankle Tuesday.
Instead of Zaza checking in for Javale, the minutes were given to Bell. He still looked like he was making some of the same mistakes prior to his first injury. He takes humongous chances at shot blocking opportunities, astonishing on the way up but often frightening on the way down. It took a turn for the worst at the end of the third though. In a one on one situation, he was able to pressure D’angelo Russell well, but after a drop off to a man under the rim, went up and came down all too wrong, on his ankle.
Tuesday was a good barometer of who the center minutes should go to. The Nets continually attacked Javale, Kevin Looney and Bell in pick and roll and off switches. It’s what made their 34 to 13 point 2nd quarter look so good. But with Bell or Green at the five, teams are forced to shrink down with the Dubs, and Brooklyn’s small ball unit saw Dante Cunningham and Hollis Jefferson at the big positions. Not quite a fair fight.
We’ll see come playoff time though if they do the right thing and start Bell. I just couldn’t imagine the workout Javale would be getting as the Cavs attack him offensive possession after offensive possession. And while David West is going to pick up some of the load, there’s only so much a 38 year old center can do in the long run. The sooner Bell gets healthy, knock on wood please, the clearer this team’s future will be.