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5 Burning NBA Questions: The Southwest Division

By 03.05.12
Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay (photo. Douglas Sonders)


HOUSTON ROCKETS
Is Kyle Lowry going to have to do this by himself? He’s averaging a career-best 15.8 points, 7.3 assists and 5.3 rebounds, and his 42 percent shooting is dead on his career average. Bet you didn’t know he’s eighth in league assists, ahead of guys like Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, and third in steals. However, only three players average double figures in points and even their top man, Kevin Martin (18.2 points per) has been up and down this year. Even since the All-Star break, Martin had 20 points combined in his first two games back, and then exploded for 60 in the next two.

Kudos go to Kevin McHale in his first year for coaching up a team that is in the middle of nearly every team statistic this season. Here’s the hard part: stealing a few on the road. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets have a .789 winning percentage at home and a .353 winning percentage on the road — the the third-largest disparity in those measures, behind only the Lakers and Jazz. Someone, anyone, needs to step up and help out Lowry if Houston wants to finish top-two in this division. They’re a nice surprise so far, but a fade to the mean seems closer than a shot to the top right now.

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
Lionel Hollins had everyone looking at his team in awe last postseason as they ran San Antonio out of the playoffs. Will it take the return of Zach Randolph to flip the switch or something else? Remember, this wasn’t a team people were calling as the upset special, instead looking for Portland to beat Dallas. Then, out of nowhere, they rolled the Spurs even without Rudy Gay. Gay is back and playing a huge level this year at 18.9 points, while Marc Gasol was an All-Star. Mike Conley is back, and Tony Allen has the best Twitter feed in the NBA.

Instead it’s Randolph who’s now gone after playing just four games (out the past eight weeks), and they’re missing his double-doubles. The team says it isn’t seeking out trades to complement who is healthy, but Hollins has to be responsible for this team’s wild swings — they score a whopping 16 points fewer in losses than wins. One hallmark of the playoff run was its stunning win over San Antonio on the road. This year, their assists go down by four and turnovers go up by four once they’re away. Find a way to tweak those even a little bit, and we could see a switch flipped again.

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

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Chaos reigns in the Big Easy, where nothing is right this season. Even though David Stern says negotiations with a new team owner are behind schedule, that shouldn’t distract the players. But like it or not, that ownership uncertainty led the Hornets to where they are now, by letting David West get away and then shipping out Chris Paul. Without CP3, coach Monty Williams has been given a patchwork team. Can they get over the hump to finish games? The Hornets were up 95-91 on Chicago last Wednesday, then lost by four. Against Toronto the next night, they were sluggish and lost late.

The team that won four of six entering the All-Star break and snapped Linsanity at MSG should be able to knock down some games. It has to start within their own division, where they’re 0-7 and allowing the second-most points, 95.7, to division foes. Gustavo Ayon and Greivis Vasquez have been pleasant surprises buried among the rubble.

Who do you think wins this division?

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TAGSdallas mavericksDimeMagDIRK NOWITZKIGARY NEALHouston Rocketskevin mchaleKYLE LOWRYLAMAR ODOMLIONEL HOLLINSMANU GINOBILIMEMPHIS GRIZZLIESNEW ORLEANS HORNETSRudy Gaysan antonio spursTONY ALLEN

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