Updated: January 24, 2011, 2:49 PM ET

1. Who's Ready To Soar In Second Half?

By ESPN.com

With the 41-game halfway mark now in every team's rearview mirrors, we asked ESPN.com writers this:

Which team or player do you expect to see the greatest improvement in the second half of the season?

Here's what they had to say:

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Derrick Rose can't play any better than his MVP-caliber first half, but I expect more from the Chicago Bulls once they get Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah together for a sustained stretch. They've been in the same starting lineup only nine times this season, and the Bulls went 7-2. Rose has carried the Bulls to the third-best record in the East so far; imagine what he can do with more help.

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: The Los Angeles Lakers. There probably aren't enough days on the calendar to catch the Spurs but, come April, the Lakers should be playing a better brand of basketball. With Andrew Bynum returning to full health, the Lakers will continue to refine their defense. Offensively, trust in the system will grow until it resembles what we've all become familiar watching each spring.

Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: The spurt we've seen from the Clippers over the past month will continue and they'll make a strong run for the playoffs. Third-year center DeAndre Jordan will continue his growth and improvement.

Tom Haberstroh, ESPN.com: Houston Rockets for a few reasons. A stockpile of assets and an aggressive front office mean they can make a big move at the deadline. They've also been the recipients of some bad luck in close games so I think their W-L record understates their ability to ball. And soon enough, someone will kindly return Aaron Brooks' shooting stroke to him.

John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Philadelphia 76ers. They're only 18-25 but I expect them to win more than half their games between now and the end of the season and make the playoffs, behind a jelling young core that includes the likes of Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Lou Williams. The Sixers are 15-12 since Thanksgiving and have a favorable schedule the rest of the way.

Tim Legler, ESPN: The Clippers are a very talented team that underachieved in the first half primarily due to injuries, getting acclimated to a new coach, and the immense learning curve of their young players. They have played much better lately and are actually above .500 in games that Baron Davis starts. If they stay healthy I expect the Clippers to have a strong second half.

Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: I'll give you one of each. Playerwise, I have to go with Ron Artest simply because of how little he has produced for the Lakers statistically. We all know he has it in him to do more, and I'm not sure why this season-long slump has endured, but the guy is due for a breakout month in which he becomes a key contributor again. Teamwise, I'm going with Philly, the most snakebitten final-minute team in the NBA (1-7 in games decided by 3 or fewer points, 1-4 in overtime games).

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: The scary-but-true answer is indeed the Bulls. Chicagoans must be salivating at the thought of actually seeing Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah on the floor at the same time alongside Derrick Rose for more than a few games ... and an upgrade at shooting guard before the trading deadline if we let them get greedy. But let me also throw out a stubborn vote for John Wall, who can't catch Blake Griffin in the Rookie of the Year race but still has 40 games left to build on his recent run of 15-and-10 ball and wow us more consistently with that ridiculous end-to-end speed if his health will finally cooperate. Things have to get better for Wall and the Wiz on the road ... unless you think they're going to lose their next 21 games outside of the nation's capital to clinch an 0-41 road record.

Dimes past: Jan. 6 | 7 | 8-9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15-16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22-23

2. The Miller Heat Were Waiting For

By Michael Wallace


MIAMI -- Conventional wisdom has always suggested it was only a matter of time before Mike Miller became, well, Mike Miller for the Miami Heat.

He's proved to be too good of a shooter over his 10 NBA seasons.

He's worked too hard to establish a solid reputation as a versatile playmaker.

At some point in his return from that October thumb surgery that delayed and derailed his impact early in his first season with the Heat, Miami would eventually grasp what Miller Time is all about.

"We've been going to Mike Miller since he got back," teammate LeBron James said before Saturday's 120-103 victory against the Toronto Raptors. "We'd love for Mike to be aggressive. We need him to look for his shots. We can't afford for Mike not to be aggressive."

Miller obliged.

When it comes to Miller's shot, a season of struggles gave way to a Saturday night stroke of genius. The Heat signed Miller on July 16, 2010 to be the perfect stretch-the-floor complement to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who were locked up a week earlier in free agency. But in many ways, Miller didn't arrive in true form as expected until Saturday night.

Miller made his first basket of the season in AmericanAirlines Arena six minutes into the game. Then, he made another. And another. By the time he was done, Miller scored a season-high 32 points, set a franchise record for second-quarter scoring with 22 points, shot 6-for-11 on 3-pointers, grabbed 10 boards and helped the short-handed Heat (31-13) end a season-long, four-game losing streak.

Read the rest of Wallace's story at the Heat Index.

3. Lakers' Numbers Reflect Slippage

By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPN Los Angeles.com

From an efficiency standpoint, the Lakers are allowing relatively close to the same number of points per 100 possessions this season (101.7) as they did a season ago (101.1). Unfortunately, a figure good enough to tie for fifth last season, only .9 behind the league leader, leaves them ninth this season, almost five points worse than the league's top squad.

Good enough for then hasn't been good enough for now.

The relative lack of performance, along with providing a squad struggling with some of the fairly natural issues of focus popping up after three straight Finals runs and consecutive titles, prompted the coaching staff to make some adjustments on the defensive side of the ball a few weeks ago.

"Nothing is really different. It's just, we're just trying instead of letting instinctually some of the things we expect for them to just naturally pick up and expect for them to do, they're not really getting it," Brian Shaw told me recently. "So we're just clarifying it, and just trying to tighten it up so we don't have as much slippage on it. And in the process maybe some of the terminology seems new or different to them, but we're still pretty much doing the same thing."

There are changes, though, from a greater emphasis on utilizing the length of Andrew Bynum near the basket to funneling penetration toward the baseline (and out of the paint).

To get a better feel for what the Lakers are doing -- right, wrong and in between -- we hit up coach Dave Miller, 710 ESPN's basketball analyst and longtime assistant at the college and NBA level for a chalk talk. He breaks down exactly what the Lakers are trying to do with their revised defensive scheme -- like Shaw, he says it's not all that different -- and some of the practical points of execution going along with it. The Lakers, Miller says, are improving, but haven't yet built in consistency.

"Basketball is a game of habits," he says. "You either do it all of the time, some of the time, or never, and two of those three aren't good enough to win a championship."

See the full story at ESPN Los Angeles

4. Mavs Aiming To Emerge From Rough Stretch

By Jeff Caplan

The Mavs expect to sign Peja Stojakovic on Monday. His ability to contribute immediately is uncertain due to health issues that have limited him to just eight games this season. When healthy, Stojakovic helps to spread the floor and can provide spurts of knockdown 3-point shooting.

Trade scenarios are also being explored as the Feb. 24 deadline looms. But the Mavs prefer to remain patient, eager to see Dirk Nowitzki return to full strength and for the eventual return of flashy guard Roddy Beaubois before pulling the trigger on a deal that could net a solid contributor, but also a hefty contract.

The pivotal piece to long-term success, of course, is Nowitzki and his right knee. Although he continues to feel as though he's on the cusp of regaining full strength, it hasn't happened through five games back. After Saturday's win, Nowitzki said he felt like he was "running in quicksand."

"The chemistry is there," Mavs owner Mark Cuban said. "Dirk's just got to get healthy and we're trying to get him there. We want to stay healthy just like anybody else. Any player comes back after missing for a while, especially somebody who you depend on so much, it's a challenge. He'll get back. Like I say every year, you just want to be healthy and playing well at the end of the year."

Check out the rest at ESPN Dallas.com.


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