As fog fades away, Zaza settles in, becomes key factor for Warriors

As fog fades away, Zaza settles in, becomes key factor for Warriors

OAKLAND -- For the better part of his first two months in a Warriors jersey, Zaza Pachulia was tentative on offense and unimposing on defense. The transition was difficult enough that he remarked about how “hard” it is to play with so many stars.

He fumbled entry passes and rarely finished at the rim. He was either fifth or sixth on the team in blocked shots.

Just as fans were wondering why the Warriors signed him -- and why they weren’t seeing more of JaVale McGee -- the fog that so often seemed to conceal Pachulia’s skills is starting to burn off.

The number of plays he has made over the past week, notably in the 117-106 win over Sacramento on Sunday, are showcasing Pachulia’s ability. His teammates and coaches are noticing.

“The more you play with each other, the more comfortable you get,” Draymond Green said late Sunday night. “I can’t say we’ve had a big like Zaza that we’ve played with for the last four of five years. You get more comfortable as the season goes on, and he’s getting more comfortable. You start to figure out where he likes the ball, and where he’s going to be. And as of late, we’ve been doing a better job of it.”

Pachulia’s numbers are climbing. He scored in double figures twice in the first 34 games. He’s done it in each of the last four, averaging 11.0 points per game on 66.7-percent shooting.

But his value goes beyond numbers. Pachulia’s presence is, to his teammates, much more settling, perhaps because he is feeling much more settled.

“I just feel more comfortable,” Pachulia said after practice Monday. “Maybe I’m in better shape. Maybe I wasn’t in as good a shape as now at the beginning of the season. Something changed. I feel better.

“In the beginning, it was all about watching and observing, like, ‘What can I do to help these guys and to help the team and get them better shots, instead of contested shots.’ I was caught up in that a lot. I think less now. Not because I don’t care, but just because I feel more comfortable. I know their games better. I know what to do.”

Because he’s a 6-foot-11 center that rarely blocks a shot and lacks a go-to offensive move, the belief was that Pachulia would earn his keep by doing the subtle things that would help to win games. He’d communicate on defense and use the knowledge gleaned over 13 seasons to aid in any way possible. He’d set screens, occasionally find a cutter with a pass, keep opponents off the glass and grab a few rebounds.

The 32-year-old native of the Republic of Georgia has gained enough confidence in his surroundings to go beyond that.

Pachulia was in the middle of the play of the night in the win over Sacramento. Kevin Durant blocked a DeMarcus Cousins shot, with the ball bouncing to Pachulia. Without hesitation, the big man flipped a no-look outlet pass backward over his head to a streaking Stephen Curry, who took it in for a layup.

“Zaza’s got a little flair to him,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He likes making plays like that. Not that he’s constantly making them, but he’s got a little of that in him and I know he had fun with that play.”

Pachulia, whose impressive showing in the balloting for the All-Star Game has inflated his celebrity status, though hardly his head, downplayed the pass that made the video rounds on social media.

“I don’t want to be caught up in it,” he said. “Just make sure it’s a solid play for me. That’s how I look at it, to be solid and accurate and a good pass. But, honestly, in that situation, I saw Steph was wide open. So I didn’t want to waste any time and turn around and pass it. I just let the ball go because he was by himself.”

The play took vision, skill and a certain audacity. It’s easier to be audacious with your teammates when you’re comfortable with them as players and as people, no matter if they are “stars.”

Instant Replay: Warriors surge in second half to take down Magic

Instant Replay: Warriors surge in second half to take down Magic

BOX SCORE

After an understandably drowsy first half, the Warriors snapped awake after intermission Sunday and raced off with a 118-98 win over the Orlando Magic.

It was the seventh consecutive win for the Warriors, who lifted their record to an NBA-best 38-6.

Clearly affected by the noon tipoff (9 a.m. Pacific) at Amway Center, the Warriors committed 12 turnovers in the first half before settling in and totaling seven giveaways in the second.

Six Warriors scored in double figures, with Stephen Curry pouring in 27 points in three quarters to lead the way. Klay Thompson finished with 21 points, Kevin Durant 15 and Zaza Pachulia 15. JaVale McGee added 12 and Pat McCaw put in 10.

Orlando (18-28) lost for the ninth time in 11 games. Guard Elfrid Payton was the Magic’s leading scorer, with 23 points.

STANDOUT PERFORMER

Nearly all of the Warriors eventually woke up, but none did so with the energy and enthrallment of Curry.

Curry’s line: 27 points (8-of-15 from the field, including 7-of-13 from deep, 4-of-4 from the line), six assists and three rebounds. He played 30 minutes and finished plus-32 for the game.

With his seven 3-pointers, Curry (1,763) passed Peja Stojakovic (1,760) to move into 13th place on the all-time list. Next up is Rashard Lewis (1,787).

TURNING POINT

Trailing 55-50 with 10:30 left in the third quarter, the Warriors perked up and roared back with a 19-2 run punctuated by a Curry 3-point bomb to go up 69-57 with 6:54 left in the quarter.

The Warriors outscored the Magic 42-24 in the quarter, taking a 92-74 lead. Orlando got no closer than 18 in the fourth.

INJURY UPDATE

Warriors: G Shaun Livingston (rest) was a healthy inactive. F/C David West (L thumb fracture) was listed as out.

Magic: G Evan Fournier (R foot soreness) was listed as questionable and downgraded to out. G Jodie Meeks (R thumb sprain) and G C. J. Wilcox (L Achilles tendinitis) were listed as out.

WHAT’S NEXT

The Warriors go back to work Monday, when they face the Heat at American Airlines Arena in Miami. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

NBA Gameday: Warriors must summon intensity for early start vs Magic

NBA Gameday: Warriors must summon intensity for early start vs Magic

Having destroyed three highly regarded opponents in their toughest week of the season, the Warriors on Sunday face an altogether different kind of challenge.

This time, it’s simply waking up.

The Warriors will pursue their seventh consecutive win, facing the Orlando Magic at Amway Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 a.m Pacific., the earliest game of the season for the Warriors.

The last time the Warriors (37-6) played such an early game in the Eastern Time Zone was March 26, 1995, also in Orlando.

The Magic (18-27) will want to be on alert for Warriors star Stephen Curry, who torched Orlando for 51 points last Feb. 25, his last visit to Amway Center.

BETTING LINE:
Warriors by 12.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
Kevin Durant vs. Aaron Gordon: It’s the most efficient high-producer on offense (Durant) vs. one of the top five athletes in the league (Gordon). Durant is taking apart all defenders, and Gordon isn’t known for his D. No, the South Bay native is most known for his ability to fly. Durant’s task will be to minimize lob attempts while keeping him off the offensive glass for easy put backs.

INJURY REPORT:
Warriors: F/C David West (L thumb fracture) is listed as out. G Shaun Livingston (rest) is listed as out.

Magic: G Evan Fournier (R foot soreness) is listed as questionable. G Jodie Meeks (R thumb sprain) and G C. J. Wilcox (L Achilles tendinitis) are listed as out.

LAST 10:
Warriors: 9-1. Magic: 3-7.

SERIES HISTORY:
The Warriors have swept the Magic in each of the past three seasons, compiling a six-game win streak during which they’ve won by an average of 10.8 points per game.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
EARLY FOCUS: After such astonishing success in a grueling week, with three emotional games, the Warriors may be susceptible to a letdown against inferior competition. Will they be able to summon the intensity from the start?

THE BIG MEN: Zaza Pachulia will have his hands full with Nikola Vucevic, the USC product who is one of the league’s more skilled scorers in the paint. Vucevic is not much of a defender, though, so Pachulia may find a few opportunities via the back cut or the pick-and-roll.

INSIDE D: If ever there were an offensive team begging to be defended by a zone, it is the Magic, who are 25th in field-goal percentage and, even worse, 28th in 3-point shooting percentage. The Warriors should be in good shape if they limit penetration.