Healthy GP2 says re-joining Dubs will be ‘like riding a bike'

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Write it in pencil, not pen, but Gary Payton II is expected to make his highly anticipated return to the court for the Warriors on Sunday at Chase Center against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Payton scrimmaged with the Warriors on Friday and was a full participant Saturday in the team's light practice. The Warriors officially are listing him as probable, and Payton will warm up with the intention of playing. 

"It feels good," Payton said Saturday after Warriors practice. "I'm starting to feel like myself. Just excited to get out there and get back to it. I've missed a lot of games this year, so just ready to get back out on the court with the guys and ramp this up for the home stretch." 

The Warriors re-acquired Payton from the Portland Trail Blazers at the Feb. 9 NBA trade deadline. But he hasn't played since. 

His last game actually came against the Warriors as a member of the Blazers on Feb. 8. When he arrived in San Francisco for his physical following the trade, however, Payton failed it, to the surprise of the Warriors. Payton has dealt with lingering pain from a right adductor/core injury after offseason surgery. 

Finally, after missing the Warriors' last 20 games and being out for six-plus weeks, Payton feels the healthiest he has all season. 

"More and more feel like myself," Payton said. "At the beginning of the year, working through all the little pains and little bumps and bruises from the offseason. I feel pretty good."

Bringing Payton back undoubtedly is a major positive for the 39-36 Warriors, who continue to push for NBA playoff positioning. His return gives the Warriors a different look on both ends of the court. It also means lesser roles for a handful of players. 

Now more than ever, coach Steve Kerr is preaching a "we over me" attitude for the Warriors. The defending champions need Strength in Numbers to succeed. They also need players to put the team ahead of themselves, something that's much easier said than done. 

There's no telling yet who will take a backseat to Payton. Anthony Lamb comes to mind, as does Moses Moody. JaMychal Green could be affected when the Warriors go with ultra-small lineups.

Kerr also knows Payton's unique skill set makes him an interesting puzzle piece. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds. Those measurables scream point guard. Not in Payton's case, though. The 30-year-old plays power forward in Kerr's system, excels in the dunker role and can guard multiple positions. 

Last season, Payton gave Golden State its best two-man lineup with Steph Curry. Per 100 possessions, Curry and Payton created a 16.9 Net Rating with a 115.2 offensive rating and 98.3 defensive rating. Payton makes life easier on the Warriors' best scorers, and the same goes with defensive stars like Draymond Green. 

"A lot of people can be impacted by Gary's minutes," Kerr said Saturday. "First we have to see where Gary is physically -- how well he can play, how he feels. He's really mostly a 4 in a guard's body, so he's a very unique player. So you have to have the right combinations around him to get the most out of him. That's one of the reasons he had a great year last year was we had lineup combinations that really made a lot of sense. The year before, I think we had Gary down the stretch of the final month of the season, we didn't have as much floor spacing for it and it was tougher to plug him in.

"We're going to have to find the combinations that make the most sense, but that could mean any number of a guy's minutes can be impacted."

For how much of an impact Payton will have defensively, he also brings a change of pace offensively. He's off to the races. He's cutting to the basket. He's ready to throw down poster dunks on a 7-footer's head. 

All of that has been missing from the Warriors, who have struggled in transition. That's an added element Kerr is excited to unleash.

"Yeah, it's a big deal for for us to score in transition," Kerr said. "We're a team that likes to run to the 3-point line. And there are times where we need some easy baskets, and I think that's something Gary did for us last year. Whether it's transition or in the half court, his ability to finish with force and quickness before the shot blockers can get there, we've missed that. We're actually one of the weakest teams in the league in transition points per possession, which, when you're a fast-paced team like us, it's not a great stat.

"We've got to do a better job here down the stretch and into the playoffs with converting and transition, and Gary will definitely help."

The assumption is Payton will fit like a glove -- pun slightly intended -- once again for these Warriors. He knows the offense. He knows the defense. And he has played with the core, winning a championship a season ago. 

Pump the brakes. At least that's what Kerr is trying to do, lessening expectations for a player who hasn't seen game action in well over a month. 

"I don't think anything is seamless in the NBA, especially at this stage late in the year," Kerr said. 

To a degree, Payton begs to differ. 

"Like riding a bike," Payton said when asked about transitioning back into the rotation. "Adding some extra pegs to the back. Got to get accustomed to them. I've been watching, so I know what guys like to do, where they like to be. It's going to be like riding a bike." 

Going into Sunday's showdown with the Timberwolves, the Warriors have seven regular-season games remaining. After Friday night's win over the Philadelphia 76ers, they now have more wins than the fifth-seeded Phoenix Suns (38-35) and the same number of victories as the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers (39-35) before both Western Conference foes play Saturday. 

RELATED: How GP2 already has made impact on Warriors before playing

Ever since it was clear Payton would miss at least a month, the Warriors' goal always has been to have Payton play a handful of games before the playoffs. Appearing in three or four would have been a positive. If he can get seven games under his legs before the real season begins, that's a win for the Warriors. 

Barring any last-second changes, that scenario is playing out perfectly for the Warriors, winners of three straight games. 

"It's important for his conditioning," Kerr said. "It's also important for our other players who haven't played with him. And it'd be one thing if he had been with us all year, and it's a much easier transition, but the fact that he hasn't been here all season means there are a number of guys on our team who really haven't played with him and it takes some time to find combinations and patterns and that sort of thing.

"So it'd be great to have these last seven games and hopefully that puts us in a good position going into the postseason."

A season that has featured more unexpected downs than ups on a consistently inconsistent roller coaster is trending in the right direction at the exact right time. Payton so often was the puzzle piece that put the Warriors together a season ago. 

Some time might be needed, adjustments will be had. In Payton's eyes, though, he's ready to ride his bike down the Chase Center hallways and have his Warriors teammates climb aboard.

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