DENVER — The Warriors have been looking toward the return of their centers for some time now. And, quite frankly, coach Don Nelson is tired of waiting.
The presence of centers Andris Biedrins and Ronny Turiaf has no doubt been noticeable since they returned from their respective injuries recently. But Nelson wants more from them, sooner than later.
"Our centers are back now, time for them to step up," Nelson said after Sunday's practice. "It's time now to put the injury behind them and start playing up to their potential. We've given them a few days, a few games. I don't need it to take two weeks to get it done. They need to step up and do it now."
In order to facilitate the progress, Nelson announced after Monday's practice that he's starting Turiaf at center instead of Biedrins tonight at Denver against the Nuggets.
Turiaf missed all but four games with a strained left knee before returning to the lineup against Phoenix on Dec. 26. Nelson said Turiaf has been good on defense, and he's been a viable facilitator from the high post on offense. But there is a concern about his knee, which hasn't responded well to coming off the bench. The Warriors want him to play after pregame and halftime warm-ups because once Turiaf sits and rests, his knee stiffens.
With Turiaf starting, the Warriors can bring Biedrins off the bench and, more importantly, have Biedrins finish the game. He'll probably be the only legitimate center on the bench, as Chris Hunter is questionable with a sprained left ankle.
Hunter, who injured his ankle in Sunday's grueling practice, learned Monday that he will be with the Warriors for the rest of the season. His contract becomes guaranteed on Sunday, and the Warriors made room for him on the roster by waiving injured center Mikki Moore. After starting 20 of the 23 games in which he appeared, Moore is out until at least March after a Dec. 18 surgery to repair bone spurs in his right heel.
So the Warriors are down to two centers in the regular rotation, plus little-used Hunter. (Forward Anthony Randolph, who is probable despite a sore lower back, also can play center, but Nelson prefers playing Randolph against backup centers.)
Biedrins is still trying to find his rhythm, he said. He's been back three games since missing seven weeks with a strained groin and abdomen. He's totaled 15 rebounds in those games and is 4-for-10 from the field.
"Their size is already an advantage for us, just being on the court — altering shots in the paint, getting rebounds for us," guard Stephen Curry said. "But they're very skilled. It's not like we're asking them to do something they can't do. I know Coach wants them to go out there and finish around the basket, dive in the hole and get to the lane, be an open outlet for us guards." The Warriors, easily the worst-rebounding team in the league, need Biedrins to become the double-double guy he's known for being. Certainly, they need energy and toughness from both Biedrins and Turiaf.
Though Nelson keeps saying he will go with a traditional front line, the likelihood is that small forward Corey Maggette will spend a significant amount of time at power forward, where he has the greater mismatch.
So Nelson needs his one big man on the court, whether that is Biedrins or Turiaf or Randolph, to be a monster on defense. And he needs that big man to produce something on offense, whether it's a midrange jumper, a finisher for pick-and-rolls or someone who can pass the ball from the paint.
And he seems to be getting impatient waiting for such production.