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If Jonathan Kuminga returns to the Golden State Warriors' lineup on Friday against the Dallas Mavericks, he will likely come off the bench. The reason is simple: In Kuminga's absence, the Warriors have started rookie big man Trayce Jackson-Davis next to Draymond Green, and their defense has been incredible.

"Trayce and Draymond together have changed our team," Kerr told reporters after Golden State's 133-110 win against the Houston Rockets on Thursday. "It's pretty dramatic. Just the rim protection, the rebounding that Trayce gives us, what that allows Draymond to do, it's been really fun to watch them together." 

Kuminga has missed the Warriors' last five games with knee tendinitis. In that stretch, they have gone undefeated and held opponents to 105.1 points per 100 possessions with a plus-11.7 net rating. Those numbers undersell how good the starters have been: With Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Green and Jackson-Davis on the court, Golden State has held opponents to 89.1 points per 100 possessions with a net rating of plus-26.4 since Kuminga's injury. 

It is too early to say that this is the Warriors' new Death Lineup. That sample represents 41 minutes spread over four games (Thompson missed their 115-97 win against the Charlotte Hornets last week), and before this stretch, the lineup had played only eight minutes together. (Including those minutes, its net rating is even better: plus-28.4.) When this sort of thing happens, though, Kerr likes to see where it goes, dating back to Green supplanting David Lee in Kerr's first season.

"We've established something here for years: If we're playing well, we generally keep the same starting lineup," Kerr said. "I mean, I've kept Steph and Draymond out of the starting lineup when they've been in that situation, so we'll see how we play it."

Kerr then noted that Golden State has "some guys banged up." Wiggins didn't play in the fourth quarter on Thursday because "he tweaked his ankle," Kerr said. The coaching staff will figure out the starting lineup for the Mavericks game when it knows who is available, but it's clear what the plan will be if the team is at full strength. 

"My philosophy is always: If you're playing well, you keep doing the same thing," Kerr said.

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For most of the season, the Warriors have been at their best with Green at center. He has played just 216 minutes next to longtime frontcourt partner Kevon Looney, and they've been outscored by 2.0 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. (Last season, Green and Looney shared the court for 1,042 minutes and Golden State won those minutes by 12.1 per 100.) For the first time all year, though, the Warriors have won six straight games. Jackson-Davis, who stands 6-foot-9 but has a 7-1 wingspan, has given them shot-blocking and vertical spacing that they didn't have, and his feel for the game is more advanced than the typical lob-catcher's. Against Houston, the 24-year-old Jackson-Davis finished with a career-high 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in 28 minutes.

"For a rookie, it's amazing what he's doing," Kerr said.

Curry told reporters that Jackson-Davis has done an "unbelievable job" of protecting the rim and playing fundamentally sound defense, so his teammates can "fly around" and apply pressure on the perimeter.

"It's no secret: We are smaller team in general," Curry said. "Earlier in the year, before Draymond missed some games, there was a lot of him at the 5, and even when he came back. And he's obviously capable of doing that, but on a night-to-night basis, it's helpful to have that presence in there. Same thing Loon has done for us for so many years, Trayce has filled that role. It gives Draymond a little bit more freedom to be a pest out there, be in help side, be able to attack the ball knowing that there's a presence behind him."

Curry added that Jackson-Davis is "seeing the pictures" -- i.e. anticipating rather than reacting -- "really well" and referenced a kickout pass he made to Thompson for a corner 3 haflway through the first quarter in Houston. Kerr said that Jackson-Davis is "gaining a lot more confidence" with his increased playing time and "our defense is playing at the best level it has all year." At 42-34, Golden State has not officially locked up a play-in spot, but, with a four-game lead over the 11th-place Rockets, it has earned itself some breathing room and the ability to envision itself making a run in the playoffs.

"The pieces fit," Curry said.

The tricky part is that Kuminga, who is in Year 3 but is still 21 years old, has had a breakout season. In his last 34 games, he has averaged 20 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 30.1 minutes, with a 24.8% usage rate and a 61.1% true shooting percentage. In March, two months removed from The Athletic reporting that he had lost faith in Kerr, Kuminga said on the Dubs Talk podcast that he wanted to be a "Warrior for life" and praised Kerr for helping him "play free and just be a great player." If Kuminga indeed has to readjust to a bench role as the postseason approaches, it will be a good test of his trust in the coaching staff.

Pregame on Thursday, Kerr said that, after a couple of scrimmages, the training staff recommended holding Kuminga out of the Rockets game, but the Warriors were "hopeful" that he could play against Dallas. They must also be hopeful that Kuminga will respond well to being the sixth man, so they can build on what they've been doing without him.