1. The Return Of Bogut: Australian For Cheer

By James Herbert
ESPN.com/TrueHoop Network

TORONTO -- Andrew Bogut broke his shoelace in the visitors locker room postgame at the Air Canada Centre on Monday and joked it was a result of his brute strength. Then he complained about the weather in Toronto -- the Australian center who spends most of his time in California can't show off his muscles wearing an undershirt in January up here. Bogut wore a smile through all of this and exited the locker room in a musical mood, singing, "Hello, hello, it's good to be back."

Bogut's first game since the first week of November was good for both him and his team, as the Golden State Warriors beat the Toronto Raptors 114-102, a needed victory after dropping the first two games of their Eastern Conference road trip in Chicago and Milwaukee. Returning from rehabilitating his surgically repaired left ankle and suiting up for just the fifth time since being acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks two days before last season's trade deadline, he was pleased to be playing after what he called a "bumpy ride."

Andrew Bogut
Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsThe West's surprise team just got better inside.

"It's been a long season for me so far, a frustrating season both mentally and physically," Bogut said. "Just to be out there running up and down the court again, especially getting the win, it was very satisfying."

He made an impact early, scoring on a hook shot 14 seconds into the game. He finished with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks and a steal in 24 solid minutes. Three of the six field goals were dunks, including a particularly powerful one in the second quarter. "That kind of showed my ankle's feeling pretty good," Bogut said.

Perhaps the prettiest play of the night was his first slam, a simple two-hander just more than two minutes into the game. Stephen Curry and David Lee ran a pick-and-roll on the right wing and Curry threw a left-handed pass to the All-Star power forward. Just as soon as Bogut's man, Aaron Gray, rotated to Lee, a touch pass headed Bogut's way for the finish. It was the kind of chemistry Warriors fans have been looking forward to since last March.

"It's very easy," Bogut said of sharing the frontcourt with Lee. "We're both high basketball IQ guys so it's not like some issues where we need to practice together for a month to get to know each other. I've been studying the way he plays when I've been hurt. I'm watching guys' tendencies, not just David's but everybody's. I think we're both great passers, great ball handlers; we complement each other pretty well."

"I think that as we go on our high-low game is going to be very effective just because it's hard for teams to help in on that high-low because you have such good shooters on the wings," Lee said. "So it's going to create some more problems for other teams' defenses."

Lee could barely get that sentence out before praising Bogut's defense, though. In Milwaukee, Bogut was one of the best defenders on the planet -- strong and smart, directing his teammates, the rare big man who plays great post defense and pick-and-roll defense, blocks shots and takes charges. That's the main reason Bogut was brought to the Bay Area. Late in the second quarter, he blocked a DeMar DeRozan driving layup. Then, after his pass to Curry didn't connect, he blocked a Gray layup. It happened in a span of 10 seconds.

"I felt like I became a better defender tonight because he's constantly talking to me and constantly rotating to get my back and vice versa," Lee said. "That's going to be the major improvement and I'm excited for us to continue to get used to playing on the same frontline and being even better."

"Some guys might think, 'Whoa, this guy's been out for all this time, he's already telling us where to go.' But I think defensively I see a lot," Bogut said. "I'm a pretty vocal guy, so I'm [calling] out screens, making sure guys don't get nailed, making sure there's help at all times. I've got no problem doing that."

Bogut's teammates have no problem with it either. "To have a veteran like that -- obviously we had Festus [Ezeli], who was playing most of his minutes, so a guy that knows the game a little better, I think it'll show in our defensive performances," Curry said.

It certainly helped down low -- Golden State scored a season-high 62 points in the paint and gave up just 34. Curry referred to him as a "presence" inside and Warriors coach Mark Jackson was more than excited to have his missing piece back in action.

"He was great," Jackson said. "You can tell we're a different basketball team with him on the floor. He's a weapon on the offensive end. His ability to pass, his ability to rebound, block shots and also make plays -- it's great to have him. Makes me a better coach."

Golden State's biggest run of the game came at the beginning of the third quarter, turning a 54-52 halftime deficit into a 71-60 lead in less than five minutes with Bogut on the floor. Almost immediately after he went to the bench, Toronto went on a 16-4 run in just more than three minutes.

Bogut said the plan is to stick to a 25-minute limit until the All-Star break in mid-February, without playing on back-to-back nights, then "lifting the lid off everything and being back to normal." He said he has no complaints physically and feels nothing he did when he tried to give it a go at the start of the season, when "my ankle just felt like jelly and just kind of collapsed on itself." He was encouraged by his explosiveness and his ability to give second and third efforts.

"I didn't feel too bad," Bogut said. "Our trainers here have done a great job of making sure that I'm getting my conditioning in when I was hurt -- [anti-gravity] treadmill and elliptical -- so I've been doing a fair bit. But it's very hard to simulate on-court conditioning when you're nervous and there's fans, people cheering when the lights come on. It's a little different. For the most part I felt pretty good, but there's still a little ways to go."

There may be a little way to go, but Bogut will enjoy getting himself there. The ride should be a lot less bumpy from here on out.

James Herbert's work appears on Hardwood Paroxysm. Follow him @outsidethenba

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