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Bogut reaping rewards of centers health
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OAKLAND (AP) — The Golden State Warriors bet on Andrew Bogut staying healthy when they signed him to a three-year, $36 million extension before last season, and Bogut bet on himself by taking an incentive-rich deal.

Both are cashing in.

Golden State’s rim-protector will play his 65th game of the season Saturday night against Minnesota, triggering a key milestone in the first year of his new contract. Bogut’s deal calls for him to earn a 15 percent bonus — or about $1.93 million this year — any season he plays at least 65 games and is named to the NBA’s first or second All-Defensive Team, which is a strong possibility at this point.

Bogut acknowledged Friday after practice that his performance and stability this season have given him a sense of personal pride. He knows the label some people put on him, and he’s eager to prove them all wrong.

“With all the chatter about being injury-prone and whatnot, it’s always a motivation for me,” Bogut said. “Hopefully I’ll get an award and get a nice little bonus.”

Bogut has more than a few reasons — a couple million, actually — to feel optimistic.

The top-seeded Warriors (64-15) are on pace to finish with the NBA’s highest-rated defense for the first time in franchise history, and Bogut manning the middle might be the biggest reason why.

His conventional statistics — 6.4 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game — are modest by league standards. But anybody watching the Warriors can see the 7-foot center from Australia makes all the difference down low, calling out coverage, shoring up the rotation and guarding the rim.

A case could even be made that Bogut should be the team’s leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year over versatile forward Draymond Green. Bogut began Friday leading the league in defensive-plus minus (plus-5.7), second in defensive rating (96.2) and second in opponents’ shooting percentage at the rim (40.5 percent).

Bogut believes either he or Green should win the award, if for no other reason than what the Warriors have accomplished as a team. He’s just asking voters to look past the offense, where sweet-shooting guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson soak up so much attention.

“People are still like, ‘You guys are high-scoring, can you sustain that in the playoffs?’ I’m like, ‘Hold on a second, buddy. We’re No. 1 in defense, too,’” Bogut said.

One of the most pivotal points in the Warriors’ rise is the March 2012 trade that brought Bogut to Golden State and sent fan favorite Monta Ellis to Milwaukee.

Bogut gave Golden State the stopper it had long craved, helping change the franchise’s decades-long culture of overvaluing offense. But Bogut’s seasons have been often derailed by injuries, including last spring when a fractured rib kept him from playing in the first-round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Since Milwaukee made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Bogut’s injuries include a dislocated right elbow, broken right hand, sprained right wrist and broken left ankle.

He also has battled back discomfort on occasion.

Bogut, now 30 years old, missed 12 consecutive games earlier this season because of a right knee injury but has stayed mostly healthy since. His consistent presence in the paint has not been overlooked.

“We’re always better suited to match up with anybody when Andrew’s playing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s the anchor back there. He’s the guy who communicates the defensive signals and protects the paint.”

Bogut’s offensive game also has enjoyed a recent renaissance.

During a visit to Australia this summer, Kerr encouraged Bogut to play a bigger role in the offense. Kerr even showed him a video that featured clips of offensive plays for his new big man.

Some highlights were from Bogut’s time in Milwaukee. Others came from Kerr’s days playing in the triangle offense for Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, when another Australian center, Luc Longley, often helped initiate the offense.

Bogut’s dribble-handoffs and hard screens have sprung Curry and Co. as much as anything this season. His increased participation has given opponents one more thing to plan for and kept him more involved in the flow of the game.

“He’s been playing phenomenal,” Green said. “I love how aggressive he’s been on the offensive end. That adds a completely different element, throwing the ball to him on the post and him scoring. It opens up the entire floor. Obviously, he’s always been phenomenal defensively. But to see him being much more aggressive on the offensive end, it’s changing everything.”

Bogut is just happy to be on the floor at this time of the year again and contribute however he can.

“I don’t think that matters a whole lot — whether I look spry or not — as long as we’re winning games and I’m doing my job,” Bogut said. “If I’m doing that and nobody’s saying anything, I think I’m doing my job right.”