1. Will Dwight Howard be Traded? The impact has massive ramifications. In the East, Orlando is currently 5th (1/2 game behind Indiana); without Howard, presumably, they’d fall off a cliff, opening the door for the Knicks or Celtics to squeeze into the Top 4. And then of course there’s the question of where Howard goes, and which team he vaults into title contention (except the Nets, who probably don’t have enough time to crack the Top 8; but imagine if they were able to get the last spot – Deron and Dwight vs. LeBron and Wade in the 1st round?).
2. Do the Celtics Blow Up the Core?: Trade Rondo? Trade Allen? Trade KG? Any or all or none could happen. The traded deadline is March 15th, and the Celtics have 10 games prior to the deadline, and the first four are against sub-.500 teams. There’s an 8-game road trip in March that likely will decide the season; five games take place out West in one week.
3. Can Jeremy Lin and the Knicks Continue Their Hot Play?: Nine wins in 12 games, but the schedule gets considerably more difficult. Was the beating in Miami – when Lin shot 1-of-11 against hellacious defense – a portend of things to come, or just a tough night?
4. Can Anyone in the West Stop Kevin Durant and the Thunder?: The former Texas star is having an amazing season – 27.9 ppg on 51 percent shooting and 36 percent from three, and he’s averaging career highs in rebounds (8.1) and assists (3.4). The Thunder are tied with Miami for the best record in the NBA and lead the Spurs by three games in the West. Oklahoma City lost in the Western Conference Finals last year, but appears destined for a Finals showdown with the Heat. Homecourt advantage will be pivotal – the Thunder have only lost once at home, back in Jan. 3 to Portland, when OKC had nothing in the second half (after playing January 2nd).
5. Will Charlotte Remain the Front-Runner in the Anthony Davis Sweepstakes? The Bobcats have four wins in 32 games, and it seems unlikely they’ll reach double figures. Michael Jordan’s struggling franchise could definitely use a player who is perhaps the best big-man college prospect since Shaq. (With apologies to Dwight Howard, who passed on college.)