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5 Burning NBA Questions: The Pacific Division

By 03.02.12

They’re fun. In what sounds like the nicest knock ever, the Warriors are a fun team to watch if you’re not a diehard (Remember when they took down the Heat in overtime with Nate the Great running point in January?). If you’re a fan, though, fun becomes frustrating very quickly and maddening even faster because the same mistake that has felled Golden State for years — lack of defense — is still doing so. Teams shoot 45 percent against the Warriors, ninth-worst in the league. Reports from the Bay Area News Group and ESPN have specified the Warriors won’t send Monta Ellis to Orlando without Howard in return. That would bring defense to the Warriors, whose most notable sign of it this season was fouling Howard so many times he shot 39 free throws, an NBA record.

That strategy actually kept the game close, however, whereas the W’s defense the rest of the year has rarely benefited them. An unsung hero on that end has been Ekpe Udoh, who should be getting more than his 20 minutes per game in his second season. One of the league’s top shot blockers (1.67 per game), Udoh is the defender they need while not lacking the scoring punch (only 40 percent from the field) necessary to allow Mark Jackson to start him over Andris Biedrins.

Is this the end for Alvin Gentry? He got the job when Terry Porter didn’t want a team capable of running to sprint. Gentry wants the Suns to go out and run still behind Steve Nash‘s lead. There’s no doubt Nash is still crazy good, let alone just competent, in his role leading the Suns. Where things get sticky is whether Gentry can tune the team into rebounding better (26th in the league) for the final half of the season.

Marcin Gortat has been a revelation at center since he was traded from Orlando last year, and has grabbed 10.5 rebounds with his 15.9 points, far and away his career bests. The experiment of using Hakim Warrick at the three and Channing Frye at three and four has been a bust, however. When Frye came over from Portland, his shooting stretched the floor and allowed Nash room to dive in the paint. With his shooting, points and rebounds all down, Frye isn’t contributing the way he was expected to.

[RELATED: 5 Burning NBA Questions: The Central Division]

They may be in last place, but they’re Sacramento’s last-place team — and that’s something the fans will cling to the rest of this season. With a tentative new arena deal getting all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed, coach Keith Smart gets a honeymoon period the rest of the season to tweak and experiment without impunity it would seem. Fans are already too overjoyed they still have the Kings to bemoan another awful squad.

The Kings’ question becomes next year. They’ll have another high draft pick to use and have Tyreke Evans to dangle as trade bait as he enters the last year of his rookie deal. DeMarcus Cousins may have contributed to coach Paul Westphal‘s firing a bit from his alleged “trade me” comments, but he’s balling — 16.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Cousins has the league’s third-highest offensive rebound rate, takes the league’s most charges (according to hoopdata.com) and is its sixth-best rebounder per game. They like to think of themselves as Oklahoma City in 2009-10 with a group of solid players they drafted, but how quickly does that happen?

What are the biggest questions marks in this division?

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