OAKLAND — With his team on the cusp of the NBA's version of manhood, he is rounding into shape at the practically perfect time, as the pests are departing and the beasts arrive.

Here is where we begin to get an idea of how far Baron Davis can lead the Warriors.

Twelve of their 13 games remaining this month will come against teams who were in the 2005 playoffs. Only five of those games will be in Oakland, beginning with defending Pacific Division champ Phoenix tonight, followed on Friday by defending Central Division champ Detroit.

"This is a big week for us," Davis acknowledged after practice Tuesday. "It's a measuring stick. We should look at it like that because these are two tough opponents, and we have to play well. We have to be at our best to beat both these teams."

Davis, the Western Conference Player of the Week, is surging toward his peak. The point guard's aching hamstring has been reduced to a tickle. His conditioning is better than it has been for maybe a year.

That he's feeling good enough to handle either end of an alley-oop lends even greater weight to his presence, because the Warriors can't even dream of reaching the playoffs unless Davis is a regular at practice, in the locker room and, naturally, in the starting lineup.

Not that having BD in uniform ensures a competitive team. Certainly not during this stretch. The W's are going to need a little more from everybody — especially the starters.

While Jason Richardson "carried" them through the first month, according to Davis, Davis himself played through pain.from Sports 1

Mike Dunleavy slumped. Troy Murphy was inconsistent. Rookie big man Ike Diogu, whose post game complements just about everybody else, sat out until his fractured hand healed.

As the pieces come together, though, this team remains one with much to prove. The early schedule was hectic but relatively soft.

Davis concedes this is a period during which the Warriors need to be "a little more focused, with a little more sense of urgency, because you know that your margin of error is a little smaller."

That the Warriors are 12-6, behind only the Los Angeles Clippers (12-5) in the Pacific, is encouraging mostly because they have not approached their projected optimum.

"We've gotta improve our practice habits," coach Mike Montgomery said.

"We're all pleased with the progress we've made so far," veteran swingman Calbert Cheaney said, "but we have a ways to go."

The good thing for the Warriors is they see the gulf between where they are and where they can be. The better thing is having the upcoming weeks present an opportunity to narrow it.

The Suns, despite not having superstar Amare Stoudemire, who could miss the season, have won eight of 10. A virtual lock to win the division with Stoudemire, the Suns instead find themselves in a fight with about eight teams for the final six spots in the conference.

The others? The Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Kings, Grizzlies, Nuggets and Sonics. Houston, too, if it recovers from a horrible start.

All of which puts greater emphasis on tonight's game.

"The difference between being on the inside and being on the outside could be just two or three games," veteran guard Derek Fisher said. "It's going to put a premium on these types of games — home games against division teams, teams you're going to face four times during the season."

A Warriors loss would make them 0-2 this season against Phoenix. It also will mean Suns point guard Steve Nash is 2-0 against Davis, whose goal is to lift the Warriors in much the same way Nash did the Suns last season.

"When people compare me to Steve Nash in that aspect, I definitely take it as a compliment and an honor," Davis said. "Hopefully, I can follow in his footsteps. The same thing he accomplished with his team last year, I want to accomplish with my team this year.

"But I want to go further."

This week begins the kind of obstacle course required along the way. The Suns want to run, as do the Warriors. The Pistons, maybe the league's premier defensive team, are terrific in half-court sets and now, under new coach Flip Saunders, will run the break. 

By the way, the Pistons happen to own the best record in the league.

"When you play against Detroit, you gotta execute your offensive sets," Cheaney said. "That's something we're working at now. We're not great at it, but we're trying to get better.

"These two games, they're going to tell us how far we've come in terms of improvement."

And how far they still have to go.

Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at

mpoole@angnewspapers.com.