Janny Hu, Chronicle Staff
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Baron Davis is still feeling the post-operation stiffness of knee surgery, but he made it on the court Monday to help his team beat the Mavericks.
If it seems as if Baron Davis is a different player lately, it's because he is.
He's had to be.
"I'm just the emotional leader now," Davis said after his team obliterated the Mavericks' 17-game winning streak Monday with a 117-100 blowout. "I'm just the floor general, and it feels great to play 25 minutes, have nine points and seven assists and know that you've contributed."
After ending last season saying that he hadn't been the leader he wanted to be, the Warriors' point guard is proving how important one player can be to a team that supposedly has offensive options at every turn.
Golden State has won its last four games with Davis and his surgically repaired knee in the starting lineup. Three of those wins have come in resounding fashion and two against the best teams in the Western and Eastern conferences.
The Warriors have climbed to a half game out of the final spot in the West playoff race, and they need only look at their 106-87 loss at Portland on Sunday to know what the difference is.
"Baron is just as important as our uniforms," swingman Stephen Jackson said. "We can't play without our uniforms. We can play without Baron, but we'd rather not. He's that important to our team. He makes the game so much easier for everybody else and everyone feeds off that."
The Warriors are 24-23 in games Davis has played this season and 6-13 without him. Their latest 4-0 run with Davis, Jason Richardson, Al Harrington and Jackson in the starting lineup that is fueling their postseason hopes.
Against all the preconceived notions about the Golden State's heavy-on-offense, light-on-defense style under coach Don Nelson, defense is leading the charge. Specifically, Davis'.
He is playing his best defense since arriving in Oakland more than two years ago, getting in the face of opposing point guards, sticking his hands into their passing lanes. And though Nelson credits the combination of Davis and Jackson with the Warriors' revived rotations, even Jackson says he takes his lead from the point guard.
With the two giving verbal directions to their teammates, All-Stars Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton of the Pistons were initiated last week, combining for seven turnovers and four field goals. The Mavericks' Dirk Nowitzki had seven turnovers against three field goals Monday.
Opponents are averaging roughly four fewer points and four fewer assists when Davis plays this season. They are shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 35.6 from three-point range with Davis in the lineup, compared with 46.5 percent and 39.8 percent without him.
"The best thing he does is talk," Richardson said.
Added Monta Ellis: "He gets everybody pumped up."
Davis admits he is no longer as explosive on offense, but he has maintained his aggressiveness by picking his spots. He scored 25 points on 10 shot attempts against the Clippers, 22 points on 15 attempts against the Nuggets and 15 points on nine attempts against the Pistons.
In those three games, he got to the free-throw line 21 times and converted 19 attempts, bringing his foul shooting up to 74 percent this season after averaging 68 percent for his career.
Davis says he has learned to pull back because he has the help he needs. He knows Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus can hit the open three-pointer, knows Andris Biedrins and Harrington can run the pick-and-roll.
"It's been different for me," Davis said. "The beginning of the year, me playing well and J-Rich goes out and I had to take on a lot. We had Monta, second-year guard, just barely starting, and everyone else around us, just a lot of instability, inconsistency as a team.
"Now, with J-Rich coming back, Monta getting 15-16 games under his belt starting, playing a lot of minutes, Dre as well, I know that I'm learning to play a certain way.
"All the credit goes to coach and the fact that he's given me different things to concentrate on night in and night out," he continued. "As long as he approves of the way I'm playing, that's all that matters to me."
And as long as Davis remains healthy, that might be all that matters to the Warriors' playoff chances.
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Great article; Baron's a true franchise player.
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