OAKLAND -- Within hours of the discouraging news about Andrew Bogut, the Warriors got an encouraging report from another corner of the medical department: David Lee was looking like his old self.
Lee scored 25 points and had nine rebounds Monday night against Minnesota, a far cry from what was thought to be possible a week ago. At that time there was doubt that the 6-foot-10 forward would be able to help the Warriors much down the stretch or in the playoffs because of a hamstring pull that was complicated by severe nerve pain. Lee missed seven games after suffering the injury on March 22 against San Antonio, and he didn't seem to be making much progress.
Even when he returned to action last Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers and then again Sunday in Portland, Lee didn't look himself. He made only four of 12 shots against L.A. even though he did get 10 rebounds, but appeared to regress against the Trail Blazers. He made just 2 of 9 shots despite playing 33 minutes, had only four rebounds and fouled out while trying to contend with Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
But lo and behold, on the tail end of a back-to-back no less, Lee miraculously found his footing Monday after a rough start defensively against Minnesota's Kevin Love. He started hitting some of his patented post-ups and mid-range jumpers, and also worked the boards and ran the floor much more effectively than he had during his first two games back.
Besides his stats, which included 12 of 14 shooting, Lee delivered something else that had been missing for a while: a postgame smile.
"I was wondering with a back-to-back whether I'd even be able to go," Lee said. "But I actually felt better. That's been the most encouraging thing. As I've gotten warmed up and pushed, it's felt better as I go along. My legs were completely gassed by the end, as was the rest of my body, but I was able to get through it."
With Bogut out indefinitely, Lee's unexpected resurgence will be even more crucial entering the playoffs. It's one of the reasons he saw it as essential that he got some significant playing time in the final week of regular-season games.
"People have asked when my hamstring started to feel better, why don't you just wait until the playoffs?" Lee said. "Well, the reason is you've got to get your timing back. Offensively, my timing was not there in Portland. But I finally got it back (against the Timberwolves)."
Said coach Mark Jackson: "What I saw was a guy who got over the hump. I thought he was a little tentative early. He wasn't good. But the thing I like is that he battled. He found his rhythm, and that's big, because we're going to need him."
Lee now has a few more days to get stronger as the Warriors plot their playoff strategy without Bogut, whose fractured rib will keep him out indefinitely. Jackson offered a preview of that strategy Monday, playing a smaller front line with Lee and Draymond Green manning the middle, and that grouping showed promise.
"It's a lineup we're going to have to use at some point and I'm fine with using it," Jackson said. "The thing we have to make sure we do is battle defensively when we go with that lineup, because there's no Bogut, there's no Jermaine (O'Neal), no Festus (Ezeli) . . . a big guy protecting the paint area. So we have to make multiple effort plays protecting the paint and rebounding the basketball. It's not just those two guys' responsibility. We have to do a good job of it collectively."
But at least they have a chance with Lee being closer to his old self. His performance Monday gives the Warriors a psychological lift, in addition to the tangible production.
"He's fundamental to the success of our team," star guard Stephen Curry said. "We missed him when he was out. Guys obviously stepped up and played well, but when you have as deep a roster as we think we have, we need him to be the David Lee that we expect. I know he got a big-time confidence boost going into the playoffs, just the way his body responded. "
For his part, Lee thinks he'll be ready for a probable first-round matchup against the Clippers and their powerful frontcourt tandem of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
"It presents a heck of a challenge," Lee said. "They have one of the best frontcourts in the league, but like Coach says, the assignment is still the assignment. We have to go out there and be ready to go. It doesn't change my approach."
"We needed it, we were struggling, and we needed some energy," he said. "My focus wasn't to come in and get 20 points but I brought some energy to the game and my teammates rewarded me with some great passes."
Said Jackson: "He just chases down victory instead of numbers. But when you chase down victory, numbers come."
Follow Carl Steward on Twitter at twitter.com/stewardsfolly.
Warriors (50-31) at Denver (36-44), 7:30 p.m. CSNBA