With the second half of the shortened NBA season kicking off tonight, there are a few questions that need answering over the next 30 or so games of the regular season.

Beasts of the East?

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Unlike last season, the Miami Heat don’t have any problems with their direct contenders. They look much better than the Boston Celtics, who are still below .500 and will barely make the postseason at this pace, and they’ve already beaten the Chicago Bulls, with Derrick Rose. It seems hard to figure any other matchup for the Eastern Conference Finals than the Heat vs Bulls.

If Derrick Rose is back to his healthy self, back pain free, the Bulls are right up there with the Heat. They don’t have the three All-Star combo like the Heat, but they’re a deeper team, wiser than the one that lost 4-1 to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade last year. On the other hand, LeBron James isn’t slowing down, and Dwyane Wade is just picking up speed.

Thunder in a League of Their Own Out West?

More and more people are beginning to pick the Thunder as their favorites to win the NBA title. The West? Everyone knew that, but it looks like they don’t have anyone with them in the conference willing to put up a fight. The Lakers and the Mavs, the defending champions for crying out loud, don’t look like the kind of teams to beat the Thunder in a series. The Mavs have gotten better as the season develops and they do pose match up problems for the Thunder, but it doesn’t look like they’ll have enough, for a second straight time, to beat the Thunder, who’ve gotten better since last season.

Jeremy Lin and the Normal Life

Linsanity took a break, thanks to the Miami Heat and the All-Star weekend. The question is, now that Carmelo Anthony has returned and has integrated himself back into the team, how good will the Knicks be? Lin won’t be streaking again for 25-10 nights, or at least he shouldn’t be according to all reasoning. How good is his regular drive? Good enough for the Knicks to be a playoff team and play like a team, or will D’Antoni be soon looking for a different point guard?

Dwight Howard – Where?

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Staying? Going? The trade deadline is two weeks away, and it’s pretty much up to the Magic front office deciding to take cap space or start the rebuilding process with players they might or might not want off of the Lakers/Mavericks/Nets. Dwight Howard, display his gracious host display and regular awesome numbers (20-15 average), would probably like to play in a bigger market. Even if his mom says stay in Florida.

Still the Best Scorer in the League?

Kobe Bryant is on his way to win his third NBA scoring title, unless Kevin Durant or LeBron James take it up a notch in the scoring department. Like we’ve been saying all season long (TWO WHOLE MONTHS!), Bryant scoring and scoring and shooting and shooting isn’t necessarily the best thing for the Lakers. Mike Brown, or pretty much any other head coach around the league, can’t stop Kobe from doing what he wants. If he thinks taking 25 field goal attempts a night is good for the team and him, no matter the order, he’ll keep on doing it.

Tanking, Bubble Teams and Choosing Between

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Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, after one of the most depressing seasons for any franchise ever in 2010-2011, might accidentally make the playoffs and get crushed. What will be better? Playoff experience, or another lottery pick in a (predicted) very good draft class? More questions like these are hovring out west, with the battle for the final playoff spots rather close – The Nuggets, Timberwolves, Jazz, Warriors and the Suns can all still make it. The question is, what will be better for them, with the actual chances of making it through the first round looking bad to none?