FRESNO -- Forward David Lee is certain he has another level to reach. If he does, that's good news for the Warriors. But it seems they'll be fine with the same player to whom they've grown accustomed.
"If he does what he did last year as consistent as he did," point guard Stephen Curry said, "with the additions we've made around him, he'll be that much better of a player and hopefully it will lead to more wins. All he has to do is continue that level of play."
Lee led the Warriors with 19 points and seven rebounds in Golden State's 110-93 win over the host Los Angeles Lakers at the Save Mart Center at Fresno State. The Warriors put the game away with a 35-0 second-half run after by seven at the half.
At this point, Lee is the only sure thing among the Warriors core. Curry, who was held out of Sunday's game by coach Mark Jackson, and center Andrew Bogut are overcoming injury issues. Second-year guard Klay Thompson, albeit promising, is still relatively unproven, and coach Mark Jackson has yet to choose a starting small forward.
Jackson raved about Lee's leadership and work ethic since the players began working out together in early September.
That leaves Lee as the one money chip Jackson can bank on. His teammates said he's an even bigger presence in the locker room this year, telling jokes and giving encouragement. He's often the catalyst behind team bonding activities.
While his presence is important, Golden State will need his production. If returns to health by Curry and Bogut improve the Warriors starting five, Lee likely won't average 20.1 points and 9.6 rebounds, as he did last season. He likely won't be called on to play 37.2 minutes per game.
But will he defend his position? Will he be a reliable option on offense in crunchtime?
"I know when the season goes on, I'm going to make my presence felt," said Lee, 29, entering his eighth season. "It's a matter of finding a way to do it in a team concept to win."
Lee is healthy after successful surgery in April to repair a torn abdominal muscle, and Jackson said Lee is in great shape. For the first time in his career, he'll be playing next to a legitimate center in Bogut. And he's playing for a team with legitimate playoff hopes.
Still, Sunday's game probably felt like last season. With Curry and Bogut out, rookie Festus Ezeli started at center and Jarrett Jack replaced Curry at point guard. That left Lee as the primary big man, which was the case last year for the injury-riddled Warriors.
"It had nothing to do with how he looks," Jackson said. "He looks great. He's done everything we've asked him to do from the day after Labor Day. He's in great shape. We play home Monday in front of our fans, and I thought that would be the better place to play."
Curry, who missed 40 games last season and had arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle in April, hasn't played an NBA game since March. He was limited the first three practices as Jackson sought to protect his ankle. Saturday, Curry went the entire practice for the first time. He said his ankle feels fine.
Utah at Warriors, 7:30 p.m.