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Biedrins playing like a veteran

December 17, 2006|From the Associated Press

OAKLAND — Until a teammate told him, Andris Biedrins had no idea he blocked three straight shots by Tim Duncan -- yes, he had his way with the eight-time All-Star for San Antonio, owner of three championship rings.

Duncan and everybody else noticed Biedrins' feat, that's for sure. The impressive sequence last month showed that Golden State's 20-year-old center from Latvia is finally finding his way on the NBA scene.

"I love the kid," said Hall of Fame coach Pete Newell, who once had Biedrins in his camp for big men. "He's young. He could run and he could jump. He's really getting his game together. I'm happy to see him getting the opportunity."

New Warriors Coach Don Nelson is a big reason for that. Not only has Biedrins assumed a greater role this season in Nelson's second tenure with the team, he is thriving in the Warriors' up-tempo, no-nonsense system. He has more chances to use his athleticism and quickness to create scoring opportunities and to wreak havoc on the defensive end.

Nelson believes in being patient when his young players make mistakes, as long as he knows they are going hard every possession.

"Definitely, I've got him tired," Nelson said. "I've been playing him to death."

Biedrins, in his third NBA season, is showing few signs of fatigue so far. He had the second-best shooting percentage in the league at 66.5 percent heading into a six-game trip that started Friday night at Phoenix and was one of seven players on the Warriors scoring in double figures.

"He's the man for us right now," forward Mickael Pietrus said. "He plays hard, he rebounds, he runs the floor. He has a lot of confidence and you can tell Coach loves him."

Biedrins went seven for seven from the field and made all six of his free throws in a win over Sacramento on Tuesday night, finishing with 20 points, 14 rebounds and three assists for his ninth double-double of the season and sixth in 10 games. He's the first Warriors player to score at least 20 points without missing a shot since Chris Mullin did it on Jan. 18, 1996, against Milwaukee.

"He understands where he needs to be and really competes hard," Mike Dunleavy said. "He's really long and that causes a lot of problems for guys."

Biedrins made six of seven shots on the way to 15 points in 21 minutes Thursday night in a victory over Houston, coming off the bench for only the fifth time this season as Nelson went with a bigger lineup featuring Adonal Foyle against 7-foot-6 Yao Ming.

"I think Don Nelson, the way he's playing and his style, I fit in," Biedrins said. "I'm playing more minutes and I feel better every game. I'm more and more comfortable. This year will be important for me and my game. The first two years were learning.

"I just keep doing my job."

The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Biedrins was the Warriors' first-round draft pick, 11th overall, in 2004 -- and he taught himself to speak English during the six months he spent training in Los Angeles leading up to the draft. Before entering the NBA, he played professionally for two years in his native Latvia.

Biedrins is only the second Latvian to play in the NBA following Gundars Vetra, who appeared in 13 games for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1992-93. Biedrins was the youngest player in the league during his rookie season and became the youngest to play for the Warriors when he made his NBA debut Nov. 5, 2004, against Utah.

"It was like a dream back home," he said of reaching this level. "We had nobody playing in the NBA and one player like 10 years before. It was hard to believe anybody from my hometown or my home country could play in the NBA."

Some might have wondered about his future at first. Biedrins' development his first two seasons was gradual -- and he acknowledges he was among the team's worst free-throw shooters.

But Biedrins, a lanky left-hander, showed off his improved game during training camp this year. These days, he has his own repertoire of inside moves and isn't afraid to go hard to the hoop or try something new to learn what works.

Duncan has been impressed with more than Biedrins' shot-blocking ability.

"He's great in their offense," Duncan said. "His teammates are finding him right underneath the rim. He's good at finishing around the basket."

Biedrins is getting the NBA look down, too. He sports glittery diamond earrings after games while joking around with teammates in the locker room.

"I knew Andris was capable of doing things," guard Jason Richardson said. "He's doing it now. He came into the league at 17 or 18 years old and didn't know his identity.... I expected it. I saw it in there and everybody else saw it in there."

For Biedrins, any accolades he gets are secondary to doing whatever he can to help the team. The Warriors are mired in an NBA-worst 12-year playoff drought and haven't been to the postseason since Nelson last took them there in 1994.

"He's an exceptional player and he's young," Nelson said. "I can't believe he's doing what he's doing at 20 years old. He's stepping in and making good plays. He's going to be an amazing player. I didn't think it was going to be this year."

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