OAKLAND — Before the Warriors took off on their five-game trip last week, coming off an uplifting win over San Antonio, it made sense to wonder if they were better without center Andrew Bogut.
A reasonable question, considering the Warriors are 6-6 when Bogut plays. Three of the wins came against lowly Phoenix, and four of the losses were to big, physical teams (Memphis twice, Utah, Sacramento) against which Bogut was supposed to make a difference.
But as the Warriors come home licking their wounds, losers of four straight, you could argue they win a couple of those games if Bogut were in the lineup.
Clearly, the question of whether the Warriors are better without Bogut is complicated. Golden State does enjoy certain advantages when Bogut is not in the lineup, but it seems obvious the Warriors' best chance of doing any real damage is with a healthy Bogut.
"We're a different team (with Bogut)," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "What he brings to the table — his ability to pass, to defend the low post, to protect the rim, set screens ... his ability to score on the low block — we certainly miss that."
Of course, getting Bogut healthy has proved to be quite the challenge. He's missed the last six games with back spasms caused by a protruding disk, and the Warriors say there is no timetable for his return.
Without Bogut, the Warriors (33-27) have scored numerous impressive wins: at Miami, twice against the Clippers, home against Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
But with Bogut, the Warriors have yet to make such a mark.
The primary reason, simply, is chemistry.
Without Bogut, the Warriors are undersized, and they know it. Forced to rely on each other on defense, they've developed a cohesiveness.
Yes, that kind of stuff matters.
"We've developed something," point guard Stephen Curry said. "We've been battling together. There just hasn't been enough time yet to build that same kind of chemistry with Bogut in the lineup."
And Bogut didn't help ingratiate himself when, before the All-Star break, he basically chided his teammates about relying too much on help and pleaded for personal responsibility on defense. Bogut said he's the kind of guy to call it as he sees it. But his credibility took a hit when, the next time he stepped out on the floor, he was torched by Utah's Al Jefferson in the Warriors' sixth straight defeat.
There are also tangible reasons why the Warriors have done well without Bogut. Golden State is pretty good at defending the pick and roll when it has more agile players on the front line.
Carl Landry, Andris Biedrins, Draymond Green (who plays power forward a lot) and Festus Ezeli are all solid at moving laterally on pick-and-rolls and rotating on traps. Bogut just can't move that well, and pick-and-roll teams take advantage of that.
Also, with forward David Lee and Landry as the two bigs, the Warriors play some defense with their offense. Those two create enough matchup problems to force teams to adjust. That's a weapon the Warriors don't have with Bogut, whose contributions on offense are minor.
However, the Warriors learned a harsh lesson on last week's trip: What worked in December doesn't so much after the All-Star break. Against good teams, defenses get tighter, the game slows down and finesse is often thwarted.