The most accurate barometer of the Warriors this season is not the shooting of Stephen Curry or the presence of 7-foot center Andrew Bogut or the sideline demeanor of coach Mark Jackson.

A good indicator is Klay Thompson, the guard whose production tends to mirror the outcome, but he remains predictably unreliable in the early stages of his NBA career.

But the best gauge of Warriors success or failure is the overall effect of David Lee, the veteran power forward with the lofty salary and new All-Star pedigree.

Lee's impact is paramount to the fortunes of the Warriors in their first-round playoff series against Denver. Only he is capable of offsetting Kenneth Faried, the hyperactive Nuggets power forward coming off a sprained ankle and still a threat to deliver his customary performances.

Golden State Warriors’ David Lee, right, shoots over Los Angeles Lakers’ Pau Gasol during the first quarter of their NBA basketball game at
Golden State Warriors' David Lee, right, shoots over Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol during the first quarter of their NBA basketball game at Oracle Arena, Monday, March 25, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

And if Faried can't go, it's an opening for Lee to be the most active "big" on the floor, in which case the Warriors may be able to match the Nuggets, whose high-speed game will at times be too much for Bogut.

"Teams that have (bigs) that can really bounce around in the paint have given us trouble," Bogut conceded. "So we need to accept that challenge."

That puts the onus mostly on Lee, with support from Carl Landry. When Lee is climbing the boards, his jumper dropping and his energy contagious, he can run and play with Faried or any other power forward. More to the point, the Warriors can run and play with any team in the league -- including Denver, even at mile-high Pepsi Center.

The salient question is whether Lee will be able to keep up.

No power forward in the league played more overall minutes this season and it has taken a toll. Though Lee is quick to say any health issues he may have are normal, the result of a full season, he whispered the other day, almost under his breath, that his back is cranky.

"I feel good enough," he said as the team headed to Colorado. "I'm not going to be sitting out any games. That's for sure."

He can't. Not now. But how effective will he be? When Lee is off his game, the Warriors suffer. His numbers in losses: 17 points (49 percent shooting) and 9.9 rebounds.

Lee's numbers in wins: 19.5 point (54 percent shooting) and 12.1 in wins. For comparison's sake, Curry's scoring numbers are higher in losses than in wins. Veterans Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry post similar numbers in victory or defeat. Rookie forward Harrison Barnes is slightly better in wins than losses -- and he's another key to this series -- but only Thompson, a guard, among Warriors approaches the influence of Lee.

The Nuggets, behind 7-footers JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos, along with the 6-8 Faried, pound the paint less with skill than with effort and athleticism. They are long and relentless, attacking the glass (No. 2 rebounding team in the NBA) and blocking shots.

The result is second and third chances on offense and fast breaks that allow the likes of point guard Ty Lawson and forwards Andre Iguodala and Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer to run the floor.

"We're just going to go in and be aggressive," Lee said.

"They beat you in transition," Jackson said. "They run off makes and misses. We have to be committed to getting back."

Only Lee among Warriors bigs has the ability to consistently play at furious pace -- assuming his body allows it. He's pushing through with what he has. Sometimes it's good enough, other times not.

The Nuggets are 38-3 at home because opponents are physically and mentally stressed by the thin air in Denver. That is their home-court advantage. One way to fight that will be by using the bench. Though playing rotations tend to get tighter in the postseason, Jackson may have to call upon every big on the roster, including seldom-used Andris Biedrins.

Yet Lee, the team's most athletic big, is the key. Watch him. Watch him closely. If he looks as he did back in December, when he was at the top of his game, even attempting to play defense, the Warriors can string out this series.

If he's laboring or looks a little timid, the Warriors could be on vacation before May.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/1montepoole.