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.”

Kerr clarifies Cousins' lack of NBA All-Star Game minutes

Kerr clarifies Cousins' lack of NBA All-Star Game minutes

OAKLAND -- Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday that the limited minutes allotted to former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins in the All-Star Game Sunday was unrelated to a pending trade.

Cousins played only two minutes -- the shortest stint by any All-Star since Connie Hawkins in 1971 -- because that was the big man’s wish.

“I asked every guy before the game started how much they wanted to play,” said Kerr, who coached the Western Conference All-Stars for the second time in three seasons. “He told me he wanted to play two minutes. He was serious. He said he was banged up. It had nothing to do with (a trade).”

After six-plus seasons in Sacramento, Cousins was traded to New Orleans shortly after the All-Star Game, with the official announcement coming Monday.

Kerr initially thought Cousins was requesting to be limited to two minutes per half. When Kerr and assistant coach Mike Brown conveyed that plan, Cousins was quick to clarify.

“He said, ‘No, no: two minutes total,’” Kerr recalled.

When Kerr pointed out that Cousins actually played two minutes, 24 seconds, the newest Pelican flashed a sense of humor.

“I went over? By 24 seconds?” Cousins said. “That should be a fine for you, coach.”

Warriors big men Pachulia, West close to return

Warriors big men Pachulia, West close to return

OAKLAND -- The Warriors reconvened Wednesday and received good news, going through a light scrimmage that for the first time in weeks included centers Zaza Pachulia and David West.

The better news for the Warriors is that both were upgraded to questionable and could return as soon as Thursday night, when they face the Clippers at Oracle Arena.

“I would say there’s a good chance both of them would play tomorrow,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’ll see.”

Pachulia has missed the last eight games after straining his right rotator cuff on Jan. 29 at Portland.

“The pain is gone,” Pachulia told CSNBayArea.com. “I can’t say I’ll be cleared, but there is no more pain.”

Pachulia is expected to reclaim his starting role despite Kerr’s acknowledging that JaVale McGee has been “fantastic” while starting the last eight games.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Kerr said. “I’ve got to make that decision. I want to make sure first that (Pachulia) is healthy. And it depends, too, on what happens with David. Is David healthy? Are they both playing? There’s kind of a domino effect on all of this stuff.

“I would anticipate that, ultimately, Zaza will be back starting. I liked that whole rotation. JaVale has helped us dramatically, and he’ll be playing a role. It’s a center-by-committee situation. But right away, we’ll see how we play it.”

West has missed the last 14 games with a non-displaced fracture in his left thumb, sustained Jan. 18 against Oklahoma City.

West was to undergo an X-ray late Wednesday, after which it was anticipated he would receive a clean slate.

The only players that did not scrimmage are All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. All four were given an extra day off in the wake of their participation in All-Star Weekend in New Orleans.

“Just being in New Orleans for those four days, there’s no rest whatsoever,” Kerr said. “Those are the guys who played the most minutes. The All-Star break is such a great time to recharge.”