OAKLAND -- Does Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson use his bench players so sparingly because they fare poorly? Or do they fare poorly because Nelson uses them so sparingly? More importantly, does it really matter?
The upshot remains the same: The Warriors have been winning games lately despite seldom sending reserves to the scorer's table to check into the action.
On average this season, Golden State reserves have pulled down 71.1 minutes per game. But that figure has dropped to 54.2 during the last five contests -- with a scoring average of only 16.2 points per game -- as Nelson continues to ride his starters hard.
"You write it, whatever you think," Nelson said when asked to pinpoint the cause of the bench's relative lack of use. "It's a chicken and an egg (situation). ... I play guys that I think can help me win."
So three weeks after Nelson played up the need to find a way for his hardest-working players to get some rest, swingman Stephen Jackson is still clocking 40 minutes per contest, the sixth-highest average in the NBA. Point guard Baron Davis is at 39, which actually represents a slight improvement from earlier this season, and guard Monta Ellis' average has risen to 35 as he becomes a more integral part of the offense.
"The last couple of games, we've had three guys over 20 (points) each time, so the bench is just coming in, providing breathers for the starters and picking up any hustle plays we can," said forward Matt Barnes, Nelson's captain on the bench. "Right now, we've got to go with what's working, and that's what's working."
True enough. The Warriors (17-12) have won four of five, building a nice little streak heading into a crucial stretch of seven games against Western Conference playoff certainties (San Antonio, Dallas) and hopefuls (Houston, New Orleans, Portland and Denver twice) that begins tonight at home against the Nuggets (17-11). Executive vice president Chris Mullin is never going to complain about those kinds of results.
"When certain guys log minutes and the end result is a win, it makes sense, as opposed to logging minutes and not getting anything for it," Mullin said. "There's a direct reason."
One option at Nelson's disposal that might bolster the Warriors' depth would be to move either Ellis or Al Harrington to the bench in favor of someone such as Barnes or Mickael Pietrus. Harrington has scored a combined 39 points in his last two games as a reserve -- 22 points against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 14 and 17 at Memphis on Dec. 17 -- and Ellis was Golden State's sixth man for two dozen games last season.
Doing so, however, would take away a crucial piece from the starting five, something that might be unadvisable given the Warriors' already clear propensity to start slowly.
Besides, unless there's a wire-to-wire blowout -- a rarity for the Warriors this season -- there's not much chance of getting the Warriors' stars any significant downtime.
"(Wednesday) night, Nellie went to the bench and it didn't work out too well so he had to go back," Mullin said, referring to a win against Minnesota in which Golden State frittered away all but two points of a 22-point lead. "It's just what's going on that night. We said at the start of the season, ideally, we'd like to rest Baron a little bit, rest Jack, but you know damn well when it's a close game, if he's at 40 minutes, he's going to go to 46."