CAN THE CELTICS BUILD ON THEIR SCORCHING START?
The key for Boston won't be to maintain its level of play from the first half but to improve it. The Celtics can hope for continued growth from young starters Rajon Rondo (point guard) and Kendrick Perkins (center), but more significant would be the acquisition of a veteran backup for Rondo. The biggest issue, however, will be the evolving relationship among Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce (right) and Ray Allen, the last of whom has struggled to find a consistent shooting rhythm in his role as a secondary option. Can these three play at a higher level as a group than they did during the team's first nine weeks, when it went 29--3? If not, then a championship is beyond them this year.
WILL KOBE BRYANT FIND HAPPINESS THIS SPRING?
His outlook improved when the Lakers heisted power forward Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies. L.A. has gone from a one-man operation to a contender with scoring options at every position as well as an intriguing bench, but the club must survive the month ahead while awaiting the returns of starting center Andrew Bynum (left knee injury) and reserve forward Trevor Ariza (broken right foot) and integrating Gasol, who should feel liberated from the burden of carrying a losing team. It will be fascinating to watch Bryant (right) operate in the company of star talent again—though his fellow Lakers are probably a year away from being mature enough to reach the Finals.
WILL JASON KIDD BE TRADED?
The Nets are unwilling to merely dump Kidd's salary for expiring contracts; they want young talent for their All-Star point guard. A year ago New Jersey investigated trading Kidd (right) and wings Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson; with the team in shambles now, it will again be open to moving any one of the three before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. The clubs who most covet Kidd—the Mavericks and the Cavaliers—have to get a third team involved to swing a deal, which complicates matters. Cleveland has thus far been unable to consummate a deal for Kidd or for the Kings' Mike Bibby, but the Cavs can also look for a playmaker in Philadelphia, where the 76ers would move Andre Miller for cap space.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH