Steve Kerr

Kerr's lineup decision when Kuminga returns really isn't that tough

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The Warriors’ training staff gave Steve Kerr a reprieve Thursday afternoon in Houston.

By informing the coach that it was best to give Jonathan Kuminga at least one more night off, he could delay a decision likely to displease the man who spent the past two months flashing star potential.

After thriving as a starter, Kuminga won’t enjoy hearing the news. But the logical move is to send him back to the bench.

It’s the only move, really. Kerr seems to realize it’s best to keep riding the group that has won five consecutive games without Kuminga – six in a row overall – the latest being a tip-to-buzzer 133-110 thrashing of the Houston Rockets.

“We’ve established something here,” Kerr told reporters at Toyota Center. “If we’re playing well, we generally keep the same starting lineup.”

That’s where Kerr is. That’s where the Warriors are. They’ve locked up a berth in the NBA play-in tournament. They’re locked in on defense. They suddenly look capable of threatening Western Conference powers, including the three teams taking turns on top.

Golden State’s task now is to keep hunting wins, keep trying to climb beyond their current play-in tournament status of 10th place in the West, and to continue sharpening its edge for the remainder of the regular season.

That means the dynamic defensive partnership between veteran power forward Draymond Green and rookie center Trayce Jackson-Davis stays in the starting lineup.

“Trayce and Draymond together have changed our team,” Kerr said. “It's pretty dramatic. Just the rim protection and the rebounding that Trayce gives us, what that allows Draymond to do. It's been really fun to watch them together. Trayce, for a rookie, it's amazing what he's doing.”

The Warriors are peaking on defense, the first requirement to be a serious NBA team. The most evident source of improvement is Green finding his personal defensive peak. He has been terrific on and off the ball. His communication has been on point and essential. He has been better the past few games than at any time this season.

The key to Green’s revival is the presence of Jackson-Davis. He’s the lob threat that JaVale McGee once was, the rim protector that Andrew Bogut once was, a more athletic version of the trusted big man that Kevon Looney has been.

For good measure, TJD gave the Warriors 20 points, on 8-of-10 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block in the win over Houston.

“It’s no secret, we’re a smaller team in general,” Stephen Curry said. “Early in the year, before Draymond missed some games, there was a lot of him at the 5 and even when he came back. He’s obviously capable of doing that. But on a night-to-night basis, it’s helpful to have that presence [that Jackson-Davis provides].

“It’s the same thing Loon has done for us for so many years. Trayce has filled that role. It gives Draymond a little bit more freedom to be a pest out there, being help side, being able to attack the ball knowing that there’s a presence behind him.”

Golden State’s season-high six-game win streak has been anchored by the league’s No. 4 defense, with a 104.1 rating. The average margin of victory has been 13 points, with opponents averaging 100.8 points per game over that span.

Andrew Wiggins, who tweaked his ankle in the third quarter Thursday night, is playing solid point-of-attack defense. But the defense's resurgence is rooted in the effective frontcourt duo of Green and Jackson-Davis.

“Trayce has done an unbelievable job of learning how to be aggressive, and pick and choose his spot, and how to protect the rim, and just play sound defense,” Curry said. “Then we’re trying to fly around like that, and it even helps to have Wiggs applying so much ball pressure to their primary scorer. The pieces fit.”

Even with the metrics supporting that, it’s not exactly comfortable to send Kuminga back to the bench.

Since becoming a starter in late January, Kuminga has been Golden State’s No. 2 scorer. His ability to effectively attack the rim in the halfcourt, getting buckets or drawing fouls – or both – is a dimension no other Warrior consistently offers.

But it’s always risky to tamper with any team, no matter the sport, when it is playing better than it has at any point in a season. And Kerr is not inclined to go against that rationale.

“I’ve kept Steph and Draymond out of the starting lineup when they've been in that situation,” Kerr said. “We'll see how we play it. We've got some guys banged up. Wiggs obviously missed the whole fourth [quarter], so we'll see how healthy we are tomorrow and figure out our lineup.

“But my philosophy is always if you're playing well, keep doing the same thing.”

Kuminga already has established himself as a quality NBA starter. One hopes he understands. Whether he returns Friday in Dallas or Sunday against Utah at Chase Center, he’ll get significant playing time.

But not as a starter. Not now. Not with the Warriors, without him, peaking at precisely the right time in hopes of salvaging what has been a most challenging season.

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