Big questions for the NBA's second half

February, 17, 2014
2/17/14
11:28
AM ET
With the NBA at the All-Star break, big questions loom for the second half of the season.

We dive into some of those topics and provide possible answers:

Is the Heat defense strong enough to win another title?
Heat opponents have an effective field goal percentage (which takes into account the added value of a 3-pointer) of 51.6% this season, tied for the 2nd-worst in the league.

Since the three-point line was adopted (1979-80), no team that has allowed an effective field goal percentage of 50% or higher and gone on to win the title that season (267 teams).

The Heat are allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions, tied for 14th in the NBA. Although results from last season suggest they could turn it around.

Their defensive efficiency ranked 11th in the NBA at the All-Star break last season, but 4th after the All-Star Break.

Are the Blazers serious contenders in the West?
Portland has lost seven of its last eight games against teams at or above .500 after starting the season 12-5 against such teams.

Their play down the stretch has been a complete turnaround from earlier in the season.

Each of their last three losses were decided by five or fewer points. They are 3-5 in such games in the new year after starting 8-3.

Damian Lillard had three game-winning shots in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter or overtime in the first three months of the season, most in the NBA. Since then he and the Blazers have tailed off in clutch moments (defined as the final five minutes, score within five points of 4th Qtr/OT).

Will Carmelo have enough in the tank to get the Knicks into the postseason?
Carmelo Anthony is averaging a career-high 38.8 minutes per game this season.
Carmelo Anthony
Anthony
That is perhaps one reason why he is shooting a career-low 35.7 percent in the 4th quarter or overtime this season.

He is 0-of-8 on game-tying or go-ahead field goal attempts in the final 10 seconds of the 4th quarter or overtime this season, and 0-of-12 over the last two seasons. He was 5-of-10 on such shots in his first two seasons with the Knicks.

New York has suffered as a result. They are 1-6 in games decided by one possession (final score within three points) this season.

Is Durant really the NBA’s best closer and the MVP favorite?
LeBron James is shooting 52.2 percent in clutch time this season, compared with Durant’s 34.2 percent in those situations.

James has the best field goal percentage among 20 players with at least 50 field goal attempts in clutch time, and the next-closest player is shooting 42.9 percent (Lillard).

Will Dwight Howard be dominant enough for a Rockets title run?
The Rockets are on a seven-game win streak, the longest active streak in the NBA,
Dwight Howard
Howard
including wins against the Spurs, Suns and Mavericks. Dwight Howard is averaging 24.5 points per game on 60.0 percent shooting during the streak.

The Rockets are outscoring opponents by 15.3 points per 100 possessions with Dwight Howard on the court in those 7 games, and have been outscored by 4.5 points per 100 possessions with him off.

However, Dwight’s season has been far from eye popping. His player efficiency rating (PER) of 21.7 ranks 10th among current starting power forwards and centers this season.

His PER was fourth in the NBA (25.4), and best among power forwards and centers when the Magic made the NBA Finals in 2008-09.

Dwight Howard may have been given a slight pass last season given the drama in L.A. and coming off back surgery, but his overall performance has not improved much in Houston. He is averaging 1.7 more points per game, but with roughly the same field goal percentage, rebounds and blocks per game as last season.

--Contributions from John Parolin, Will Cohen, Sunny Saini, Steve Martinez & Doug Clawson

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