Warriors Must Mix-and-Match
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 10, 2006

THIS WILL be a season of mix-and-match for Warriors coach Mike Montgomery, and his ability to adjust from game to game will be a big factor in what happens the rest of the way.

“Obviously, I’d like to get an 8-9 man rotation that we can stick with,” Montgomery said after yesterday’s practice, “but I just don’t see it happening.”

That’s because there are only two real constants in the Warriors’ lineup: Baron Davis at point guard and Jason Richardson at shooting guard. When they’re healthy, they’ll both be starting and playing the most minutes in games.

Otherwise, the lineup will depend as much on the opponent as the Warriors.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in the middle. When Montgomery coached Stanford, he preferred to have at least one reliable player in the middle, so he could pound the ball inside on offense and have a solid base for his defense. With the Warriors, he has had to get those contributions from three different players: Ike Diogu, Adonal Foyle and Andris Biedrins.

“Ike give us more offense inside,” said Montgomery of the first round draft choice who went from playing almost not at all in one stretch to starting. “But can you play center at 6-8 in the NBA? That’s pretty tough.

“Adonal gives us the best defense and shot-blocking. Biedrins has the quickest feet. We’ll just have to get what we can out of all of them.”

Foyle was out for a couple of games with back spasms but will be back tomorrow night against the Miami Heat and will probably play the most, if he can stay out of foul trouble, because the Heat will bring in Shaq O’Neal.. Biedrins may be the long-term answer but, at 19, he’s still raw. Diogu seems better suited to power forward in the NBA, though he played in the middle in college.

There’s the further problem of how to concentrate their defensive efforts against the Heat. “If you try to limit Shaq, well, then, there’s Dwayne Wade out there quietly – well, maybe not so quietly – getting 31 points,” Montgomery said. “That’s the way it is in the NBA. There’s seldom just one star player on a team, so you have to decide how to spread your efforts.”

The good news is that, though Montgomery’s preferences were obvious at Stanford, when he didn’t have the players to run his system, he was able to adjust and still win. That background should serve him well this year.

ANOTHER PIECE to the puzzle is Mickael Pietrus, who returned to practice yesterday after being out for several weeks with a sprained knee ligament. Montgomery could not predict when Pietrus would return to game play – “That typically depends on the medical staff,” he said – but Pietrus played the entire game-length scrimmage and was moving well.

“Of course, there’s a difference in intensity when you actually play a game,” Montgomery said, “but he looked better than I would have expected after that layoff.”

Pietrus, who will be 24 in February, is still developing as a player, but he has shown flashes of offensive brilliance and is easily the best defender among the Warriors guards.

He gives Montgomery flexibility off the bench because he can either come in at shooting guard or be part of a smaller lineup with Davis and Richardson. The Warriors have had problems in the first quarter with opposing teams shooting the lights out, so I asked Montgomery if he’d thought of the possibility of starting Pietrus to give the Warriors more defense in the early part of the game. “I imagine there’d be some opposition (from players) to that, but it’s a possibility,” he said. Not a likely one, though.

What Montgomery would prefer is that the Warriors play as well defensively as they can. Early in the season, they did, but their defense has slipped dramatically since then.

One of the problems for an NBA coach is that the schedule gives little time for practices in which teams can work on specific problems. The Warriors, though, have an unusual five-day break
In the schedule between their last game and tomorrow night’s game against the Heat. Montgomery gave the players two days off, which gives him three days of team practice.

“It gives you a chance to go back to basics,” he said, “things like keeping your man in front of you, putting a hand in his face. Basketball coaching is about instilling habits. You want your players to have the right habits, so they do the right thing without having to think about it.”

THERE IS more than one way to put together a winning team in sports, and as Montgomery juggles his lineup to get contributions from everybody, he has a precedent in the one NBA champion the Warriors have fielded since they moved west, the 1974-75 team.

The NBA at that time was a center-dominated league, but the Warriors had traded away their dominant center, eventual Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond. Coach Al Attles alternated Clifford Ray and George Johnson at center, both of them good defensive players but neither one an offensive threat. He got big contributions out of rookies Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes and Phil Smith, and a great year out of Rick Barry, who ran the offense from his forward spot. Attles rotated 10 players in and out of the lineup, a rarity then and now.

If he wants advice on how to do that, Montgomery has only to look down the hall – or talk to Attles at practice, where he was yesterday. But I’m sure Mike can figure this out on his own.

CRUISE WITH ME: The new year is here and it’s time to make vacation plans. I’m putting together a sports-oriented group for a 12-day Eastern Mediterranean cruise, starting Sept. 28, which will include stops at spots like Athens, Istanbul and Cairo/Alexandria, which were the birthplace of western civilization.

When we’re at sea, we’ll hold group discussions during which you can ask me questions on any sports topic. We’ll have sessions in which you can play general manager and decide what you’d do if you were in charge of your favorite team: 49ers, Giants, A’s, Raiders, Warriors. We’ll be able to monitor ongoing games, so we can discuss the baseball playoffs, as well as the NFL and college football seasons.

Some of you responded earlier. Those of you who want more information now should contact travel agent Janice Hough at janice@gosfgiants.com. Janice will supply you with the complete itinerary and prices.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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