Right now, Miami isn't playing defense like a championship-caliber club. The Heat are currently ranked 14th in defensive efficiency, as the blitz has looked less than formidable with Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen going through its motions at the speed of yoga.
The Heat are allowing a 51.6 effective field goal percentage, second worst in the NBA. Since the adoption of the 3-point line in 1979, no team has won a title after a season of ceding an effective field goal percentage of 50 percent or higher. Either the Heat fix this, or face overwhelming historical odds.
CP3 and Blake: The next step
Like Durant, Blake Griffin saw his production surge when a co-star went down with an injury (27.5 points, 4.4 assists in the period Paul missed). It would have been logical to assume that Paul is responsible for much of Griffin's output, but it now seems like Blake benefits from controlling his own offense. How do the Clippers proceed, given how domineering Paul can be with the ball?
The Clippers also happen to be very good, which is why the Griffin-Paul dynamic is of some consequence. Despite losing Paul for a month, Los Angeles boasts the second-best point differential out West. Look past the dunks and you might just see the primary challenger to OKC.
Can Dwight Howard and the Rockets be taken seriously?
He's not quite his old, dominant self, but Howard and the Rockets are in third place out West. Thanks to the defense Howard provides, this flawed defensive roster is among the top 10 on that end. It's difficult to take Howard seriously in most contexts, but he's helping Houston just enough to make it fearsome.
The Rockets stand out with their extreme preference toward 3-pointers and equally extreme avoidance of midrange shots. That style gives the Rockets a discordant feel, as though the whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts. Despite awkward appearances, this style has powered Houston to a fifth-ranked offense. The Rockets don't look like a traditional title contender, but if they keep winning at this rate, they'll have to be considered one.
Do the Pacers have enough offense?
Indiana boasts a historically great defense, but its offense has slipped to 19th. Paul George was heralded as a sudden offensive superstar, but 2014 has not been kind to his game. In the new year, George is shooting 39.3 percent from the field. On balance, he's still a great two-player, having a career year. It's just that so much of what seemed like a "leap" was really a run of early-season luck on difficult jump shots. Asking him to carry an offense is asking too much.
"Defense wins championships" isn't just an empty aphorism, but the Pacers' offense does leave them vulnerable in a playoff series. If a team can generate points in transition (presumably off Indiana turnovers), it will be hard for the Pacers to keep pace. Can Indiana fix this O in the coming months?
Carmelo Anthony's battle against the Knicks' malaise