LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE'S THUMB
This is an article from the Feb. 9, 2015 issue
The Blazers' All-Star power forward, who put off having surgery on a torn ligament in his left thumb because it would have sidelined him for six to eight weeks, didn't look hampered while dropping 38 and 37 points, respectively, on Cleveland and Atlanta last week. With just 6½ games separating Portland (fourth in the West through Sunday) from the Pelicans (ninth), the Blazers can't afford to have Aldridge out of the lineup.
THE CAVALIERS' SURGE
Look out—LeBron James & Co. are starting to right the ship. At week's end Cleveland had won 10 straight, beating opponents by 12.9 points per game. One key: a surprisingly consistent J.R. Smith. The former Knicks shooting guard is averaging 13.5 points for the Cavs while connecting on 35.4% of his threes.
THE ROCKETS' DEFENSE
The revamped D—spearheaded by the off-season acquisition of small forward Trevor Ariza and the startling improvement of MVP candidate James Harden (above)—looked more vulnerable in January. Houston has plenty of firepower, but its defense will be the difference between a first-round exit and a long playoff run.
RAJON RONDO'S ACCLIMATION
When the Mavericks picked up Rondo in December, he was hailed as the missing piece to a championship puzzle. While Rondo has helped on defense, the offense has stumbled with him on the floor. The Mavs need Rondo to adjust to their system—quickly.
ANDREW BOGUT'S HEALTH
Just as important to the Warriors as the Splash Brothers, Bogut is the linchpin of the NBA's top-ranked defense. The 7-footer missed 12 games with a balky right knee this season and has played all 82 games only once in his 10-year career. On a team loaded with stars, Bogut is irreplaceable.