Like a traffic accident in which both parties are certain the other is at fault, there will always be directly conflicting theories as to what, exactly, went so disastrously wrong with Mickael Pietrus' contract drive this season.
Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson blames Pietrus' lack of playing time on poor performance, while Pietrus maintains the poor performance derived from a lack of playing time.
After last week's road trip, however, both sides can actually agree on something: Pietrus is currently enjoying his most inspired and fruitful basketball of the season.
"Well, I like him very much with our small lineup, defensively," Nelson said. "He's really playing his best ball of the year. He's guarding every night, he seems to be playing with confidence, and he's playing more the way I wanted him to play all year."
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Pietrus moved back to power forward during a four-games-in-five-days swing through the Southeast, helping replace minutes left vacant by injured centers Chris Webber and Andris Biedrins (who returned for the last two contests). The unrestricted-free-agent-to-be opened the trip with 12 rebounds against Atlanta on Tuesday and finished it by latching onto another 11 in Orlando on Saturday; those were the only two times this season that Pietrus has reached double-digits in terms of boards.
"I've looked more relaxed and I'm 6-7, so I should get (rebounds)," Pietrus said after beating the Magic. "I'm trying to get a double-double every game. So we'll see next game if I get it."
For the trip as a whole, Pietrus averaged 9.3 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per game.
"He's really physical, he can jump high and he can get those balls if he wants," Biedrins said. "So it's just an effort thing, and the last few games he's just been great. He can do that every game if he wants, you know? Coach sees this, and he plays a lot and he plays good and he feels good. I'm really happy for him. The last couple of games, he's really been playing great."
Rather than worry about the possible effects of playing outside his small-forward comfort zone, Pietrus -- who is averaging 12.6 points over his past seven games -- is clearly enjoying himself. After hammering Miami on Friday with an 18-foot corner jump, a fast-break dunk and a putback layup on three consecutive possessions, Pietrus pumped his fist and shot a triumphant glance at Heat coach Pat Riley, who was one of Pietrus' ardent but failed suitors last summer.
"I'm trying to show my talent, what I've got," Pietrus said. "Once I play, I'm not a bad player. ... Everybody thinks that I was going to get my head down after the trade deadline.
"I wanted to show people that my goal first was to bring my team to the playoffs, and I'm going to stick with it."
Pietrus played a major part in the Warriors' defensive resurgence in Orlando, showing some of the intensity that made observers think in his first couple of seasons that he could become a perimeter stopper. With swingman Stephen Jackson finally healthy, a focused Pietrus could give Golden State a two-pronged chance of stopping unheralded shooters from taking advantage of the Warriors' propensity to get a little lazy at times.
"We know he can score, and he's going to rebound," Jackson said. "The biggest thing for him is that he has helped our defense so much, especially on the guard play because if a team has two great guards, I can guard one and he can guard one and we're able to switch.
"And that's definitely helped us out."