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Shaun Powell

Getting Udonis Haslem out of a suit and back in a Miami uniform would help the Heat's title dream.
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Stage set for exciting finish to season's second half

Posted Jan 25 2011 10:08AM

Everyone knows the second half of a basketball game is the most important, especially the final minutes, when drama builds. And maybe the same can be said about the season.

There's playoff spots to be settled, awards to be won and time for players to get healthy for spring. And this year, an added bonus: We get more Carmelo Anthony drama. Great.

Anyway, here are 10 storylines to watch:

Griffin's new campaign?: Why should he settle for Rookie of the Year when he can aim much higher, like, for MVP? The NBA hasn't had a dual ROY/MVP winner since Wes Unseld in 1969. But there's no way Griffin will be seriously considered for MVP with the Clippers possibly missing out on the playoffs. They've rallied impressively since starting 1-13, with Griffin (averaging 23 points and 13 rebounds) and Eric Gordon (24 points) coming up big, but it would take a near-miracle for them to keep this pace in the competitive West. About the best Griffin can hope for, besides ROY, is an All-Star appearance. Which, for a Clipper, is about the equivalent of MVP.

Heat's small two helps Big Three: We won't really know about the Heat until late March when they're expected to be fully healthy. Specifically: Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. Miller finally broke from a shooting slump caused by his surgically repaired thumb with 32 points last Saturday against the Raptors. He's probably not that productive of a player, nor is he the guy who couldn't make a shot since returning from injury, either. If he and Haslem, who's still on the mend from foot surgery, can give 25 minutes a night, that might be all LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh need.

Melodrama ain't over till it's over: Or is it? A gut feeling on how this will end: Carmelo Anthony will still be in Denver after the trade deadline, will decline to sign an extension with the Nuggets and will join the Knicks this summer (or whenever the labor deal gets done) as a free agent. Will he lose money? Probably, although remember, under any labor deal, superstars will always get paid. Will be happy? Yes, and that's what he's seeking.

Jazz play the blues: They were the feel-good story of November and half of December, a team that performed with the same fire of its coach and was among the West elite. But Utah is threatening to do a slow fade unless something happens in the next month. They've lost four in a row and are a banana peel away from slipping to seventh in the West. It makes you wonder if losing Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews in the offseason finally caught up with them. Deron Williams is grumbling and looking at the two years remaining on his contract. Is he a Carmelo in the making?

Celtics Perk up after All-Star break: Not sure if the Celtics could've beaten the Lakers in Game 7 of The Finals with Kendrick Perkins hobbling around. But they can win with him this June. Coach Doc Rivers is giving glowing reports about Perk in practice. He should be back within a few weeks following knee surgery and is just what the doctor ordered for the Celtics. They don't need him to be fluid right away, just in May. And of course, in another Game 7 in The Finals if it comes to that.

Nobody's buying houses or, apparently, the Pistons in Detroit: So, when exactly does this sale go through? Or are there serious complications and glitches in the deal between owner Karen Davidson and prospective buyer Mike Illitch? No one's saying, which means the Pistons will remain locked in limbo until new ownership arrives. That may not happen until after the labor agreement is signed.

Race for the No. 1 draft pick: The serious contenders: Cavs, Kings, Nets, Timberwolves and a darkhorse -- the Raptors. The Kings won't "win" this competition; even though there's a brutal stretch ahead (11 of 12 against teams ranked in the top five of the East or West), they've lost some heartbreakers lately. They're not that bad. Same for the Wolves, who have Kevin Love and Michael Beasley. It'll come down to two teams, and the vote goes to the Cavs over the Nets. Because the Cavs seem to want it more.

Do the Suns do right by Steve Nash?: If there's one player any true basketball fan (outside of Phoenix) would love to see traded by the deadline, it's Nash, not Carmelo. The two-time MVP has never gotten a whiff of a title (no thanks to that Robert Horry shove), turns 37 in two weeks and deserves a shot at a ring. You've gotta believe the Suns would trade Nash (despite what they say) if someone makes them a decent offer. Why would they refuse to improve their team? Problem: Nash would only be attractive to a contender, of which only Miami and Atlanta could use help at point guard.

Blazers make playoffs anyway: LaMarcus Aldridge is wrapping up a fantastic January (27 points, 10 rebounds) and the Blazers just may have enough to compensate for losses to Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and Marcus Camby. Though you Aldridge is playing heavy minutes (he's 7th in the league with 39.0 mpg), he probably won't wear down until after Portland clinches a spot. If they endure a tough March, the seventh or eight spot is theirs.

Time for Milwaukee to Buck the trend: The Bucks were one of the bigger disappointments of the first half, going 16-25 and posting a losing record (9-10) at the Bradley Center. For some reason, the chemistry hasn't been there for a team that won 46 games last sason and nearly upset the Hawks in the first round. Brandon Jennings needs to stay healthy, for sure. But the Bucks also could use John Salmons (after signing a big contract) to shoot better than 38 percent, Drew Gooden (ditto) to do better than 11 points and six rebounds a game and someone to add punch to a team that scores the least in the league (91.0 ppg) in scoring. Luckily, 26 of their last 40 games are against losing teams.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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