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Oct 20, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Dwyane Wade (3) reacts prior to to tip-off before a game against the San Antonio Spurs at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

NBA Season Preview: Southeast Division

Southeast Division Predictions

The Southeast Division is arguably the worst division in basketball right now. Yes, the division contains the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, but other than the Heat, this division might not include another playoff team this upcoming season. In years past, the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks have been middle of the pack playoff teams, but with the departures of key players like Dwight Howard and Joe Johnson, those teams might be on the outside looking in now. The Washington Wizards on the other hand, have retooled big time and are looking for John Wall to take the next step and become an All-Star. And the other team in this division, the Bobcats, are just hoping to gain a little respect. With that being said, here are my Southeast Division predictions.

First Place- Miami Heat

Starters:

PG- Mario Chalmers

SG- Dwyane Wade

SF- LeBron James

PF- Udonis Haslem

C- Chris Bosh

The defending champion and two-time defending Easter Conference champions feature a starting lineup with three of the top 20 players in the NBA today and the hands down best basketball player in the world right now- LeBron James.  Nobody had a better 2012 than LeBron did. He took home a regular season MVP, his illustrious first ring along with a Finals MVP, and a gold medal in London. Now with all the pressure off his shoulders, we might see an even better James. Dwyane Wade was banged up all of last season but has recovered since successful offseason surgery, and Chris Bosh is all healed up as well. With the Big Three at full strength and Chalmers and Haslem doing the little things, Miami once again has one of the best starting lineups in the league.

Key Reserves: Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Rashard Lewis, Joel Anthony, Norris Cole.

The rich got richer this offseason. With the additions of sharpshooters Allen and Lewis, the Heat are an even better team than they were last year. With the ability of LeBron and Wade to drive and kick going to the basket, Allen and Lewis will be getting some very good looks from behind the arc.

Team MVP: LeBron James- No need to explain this.

The Heat will cruise to the division title and ultimately the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. And I don’t see any team stopping them from reaching a 3rd consecutive NBA Finals either. This team is too good and with their recent additions, how could anyone pick against them

 

Second Place- Atlanta Hawks

Starters:

PG- Jeff Teague

SG- Lou Williams

SF- Anthony Morrow

PF- Josh Smith

C- Al Horford

The Hawks kind of fall into second place by default this year. I don’t think Washington will make a big enough step to get past Atlanta, although the Hawks will hurt from losing Johnson and Marvin Williams. I think the Atlanta can get back into the playoffs by grabbing a low seed, probably the No.  7 or 8 seed. Lou Williams will provide a spark in the starting lineup, moving from his sixth man role with the 76ers last season and having Horford healthy all year will definitely help them stay afloat. Another thing in their favor is playing in the same division as the Magic and Bobcats, the two weakest teams in the Eastern Conference.

Key Reserves: Devin Harris, Kyle Korver, Zaza Pachulia, DeShawn Stevenson, John Jenkins, Johan Petro.

The Hawks bench consists of many ex-Nets (Harris, Stevenson, Petro) and sharpshooters in Kyle Korver and rookie John Jenkins. The always-reliable Zaza Pachulia rounds out a unit that will provide some spark and see some big shots hit from guys like Korver and Harris. Look for Korver to see a lot of time at the small forward position when the Hawks go to their “big” lineup and put Anthony Morrow at the shooting guard spot.

Team MVP: Al Horford- Horford missed almost the whole season last year and the Hawks were never able to recover without him. With Horford, a top ten center, back at 100 percent, look for Atlanta to be right back in the mix to earn another playoff berth. His rebounding and scoring is key to Atlanta’s success, and with Johnson now out of the picture, look for the offense to flow through Horford this season.

Atlanta is a good enough team to make the playoffs, but nowhere near the 4-6 seed range they have been over the past few seasons. The Eastern Conference is too good now and the Hawks lost too much to be considered a viable threat.

 

Third Place: Washington Wizards

Starters:

PG- John Wall

SG- Bradley Beal

SF- Trevor Ariza

PF- Nene

C- Emeka Okafor

On paper, this team looks very dangerous. On the court, things could go south very quickly. Wall will miss at least the first month on the season due to injury and who knows how Beal will develop in his first go around through the league. Okafor is solid and so is Nene, but both often struggle to stay healthy. If this team can play up to it’s potential and avoid injury, I think they can shock the NBA and make it to the postseason. But if turmoil strikes, expect the Wizards to be in the same situation as they have been in the last couple of years.

Key Reserves: Jordan Crawford, Jan Vesley, Chris Singleton, Martell Webster, Trevor Booker.

There are few players I’m as excited to see play this year other than Vesley (Jonas Valanciunas being the other).  Vesley is supposedly a big time overseas talent and could be exactly the spark the Wizards need off the bench. As for the rest of the bench, Crawford can score at will, but his shot selection is questionable and he can bump heads with Wall as we saw last year.  Singleton is a big time defender but he is basically a poor man’s, less athletic Ariza. I don’t like the frontcourt help off the bench and I think Washington is in major trouble if one of their oft-injured starters up front goes down.

Team MVP: John Wall- The Wizards will go as far as Wall can take them. This is his third season in the league and it’s getting down to nitty-gritty time. Can Wall become a top-ten point guard or is he all flash? His love for the game has been questioned and so has his leadership, both big time red flags for any organization. The front office has surrounded him with enough talent this year than Wall should be able to get the Wizards near a playoff berth.

Washington is good and the potential for this team is scary. With that being said, I don’t trust Wall and I don’t trust the health of this team. Too many injuries and not enough leadership will once again lead the Wizards to an under .500 record with no playoff berth.

 

Fourth Place- Charlotte Bobcats

Starters:

PG- Kemba Walker

SG- Gerald Henderson

SF- Michael Kidd-Gilchrest

PF- Bismack Biyombo

C- Byron Mullens

The Bobcats are coming off one of the worst seasons in NBA history and are currently the joke of the league. That can all change this season when the Bobcats younger players finally come together and produce some wins. Walker is the leader of this team and should have a productive sophomore season. Look for rookie Kidd-Gilchrest to be a big time playmaker and big man Mullens to build on a good 2012 season. Much of Charlotte’s success will depend on how second-year power forward Biyombo plays. Last year was just a small sample size of what he can bring to this team. I expect him to be much improved and for this team to crawl out of the Southeast basement.

Key Reserves: Ramon Sessions, Ben Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Brendan Haywood, Reggie Williams.

The Bobcats quietly built a nice little bench over the offseason, with the prized possessions obviously being the backcourt duo of Sessions and Gordon. Both of these players are proven NBA players and could easily be starters. In Gordon’s case, he has thrived throughout his career coming off the pine, which answers the question of why Gerald Henderson is starting over him.

Team MVP: Ben Gordon- Gordon is coming from a bad situation in Detroit. He was signed to a big contract that he never lived up too and left on bad terms with the Pistons organization. As he arrives in Charlotte, this might be his last chance to save his career. The Bobcats are going to need help scoring the ball and that is exactly what Gordon will provide for them. If this team wants to avoid a last place finish, then Gordon will have to regain his old form.

The Bobcats can’t get much worse than last season, so obviously I think they will improve. I love Jordan’s pick of MKG, and I believe in Kemba Walker enough to put Charlotte ahead of Orlando in the standings. I think that if the young players develop enough and if Jordan can bring in a veteran, Charlotte can be dangerous in the future.

 

Fifth Place- Orlando Magic

Starters:

PG: Jameer Nelson

SG: Arron Afflalo

SF: Hedo Turkoglu

PF: Glen Davis

C: Nikola Vucevic

The Magic had a terrible offseason, losing all-world center Dwight Howard and getting basically nothing in return. They also fired their coach, Stan Van Gundy, and were unable to get rid of Hedo Turkoglu’s ridiculous contract. The backcourt will be solid with Nelson and Afflalo but the frontcourt is arguably the worst in the NBA. Hedo, Big Baby and Nikola Vucevic don’t exactly strike fear in opponents’ eyes. Look for Orlando to get outrebounded almost every game and have trouble winning games down the stretch without a star to go to.

Key Reserves: Al Harrington, JJ Redick, Andrew Nicholson, Gustavo Ayon, Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts, Quentin Richardson, Kyle O’Quinn.

Not exactly household names jumping off the page, other than Harrington and Redick. The youngsters will surely have growing pains early but I certainly expect ex-Johnny Harkless to eventually mold into a nice scorer off the bench.  Ayon might be a name to remember moving forward and we know Harrington has the ability to hit big shots.

Team MVP: Arron Afflalo- Afflalo was the key return for Orlando in the Howard deal, but this is a bad spot for him. He is expected to fill some big shoes and it is virtually impossible for him to do so. Fans will unfairly expect him to be a star on this team while in retrospect; he is just a role player. If Orlando wants to stay out of the basement and not finish behind Charlotte, Afflalo will need to step up his game.

Orlando lost a top-five player in Howard and didn’t get much in return. Without him and the loss of Ryan Anderson, I don’t see Orlando making it out of last place. This team doesn’t have enough talent right now to compete and their bench is too unproven. Their frontcourt is a joke and if one of their starting guards gets injured, things will turn ugly in a hurry.

 

Tags: Atlanta Hawks Charlotte Bobcats Miami Heat Orlando Magic Washington Wizards

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