NBA: Previewing the Southeast division

The 2012-13 NBA season is finally here. With the preseason complete, Ben Sathananthan will take a look at how each team stacks up, division by division, before the season tipoff on Wednesday morning between the Wizards and the Cavaliers. What better place than to start than the Southeast division, home to the defending champion Miami Heat.

The Southeast is certainly no longer the powerhouse division it was in 2010 when 4 of the 5 teams made the Eastern Conference playoffs.  After Dwight Howard left Orlando, the division will only house two possible playoff contenders in Miami and Atlanta. With the other three teams in complete rebuilding mode, the Southeast will be the weakest division in the NBA

The reigning champs Miami Heat will take out this division with ease and are again favourites to go back to back in season 2012-13. After struggling with depth last season, Miami looked to add jump shooters around the big 3 of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They couldn’t have had a better pickup in Ray Allen, who left Boston on a 2 year, 6 million. Allen is the best 3 point shooter of all time having hit 2718 threes in his career at 40% and after shooting 45% from three last season, will provide Miami with a much needed scoring boost off the bench.

Miami also added former Wizards sharpshooter Rashard Lewis and New York centre Josh Harrellson to further help their 3 point shooting stocks. If we thought the Heat couldn’t get any better after last season, we were wrong. With the lack of a quality centre to support Bosh as their only weakness, Miami can take comfort in the fact that their path to the Finals will only be easier this season with Chicago and Indiana becoming weaker overall. With Lebron at the peak of his powers, Coach Erik Spoelstra no longer has to worry about the threat of Pat Riley replacing him as head coach.

Now that the pressure is off after winning the championship, Miami should cruise comfortably through the season to lead the Eastern Conference standings with about 62 wins which should get them the 1st seed. That record may just get them the best record in the league and home court advantage in the Finals, which is a must for this team.

The Atlanta Hawks should find themselves a distant but very comfortable 2nd place in this division. Now that Joe Johnson has taken his massive contract to Brooklyn, the Hawks had cap space to go out and sign a quality young guard to partner Jeff Teague in the backcourt. I believe they got a steal in former 76ers combo guard Lou Williams. After leading the 76ers in scoring off the bench with 14.6ppg, Williams is likely to increase his output to 20ppg now that he is expected to start.

Now that Johnson is gone, it frees up shots for the frontcourt combo Josh Smith and Al Horford. Horford was expected to have a career year last season before he went down with a torn pectoral. Smith flourished in his absence before fading out towards the end of the season, finishing with 18.8ppg and 9.7rpg. Trading away perennial underperformer Marvin Williams for point guard Devin Harris also freed up space to bring in sharpshooter Kyle Korver to a deep roster which includes Deshaun Stevenson, Anthony Morrow, Zaza Pachulia and Ivan Johnson.

The Hawks have the potential to win 50 games if Horford and Smith begin to max out their potential and Williams and Teague mesh in the backcourt but an overall mark of 45-37 seems more likely for this team without Johnson.

The Washington Wizards has slowly begun to form a respectable team around John Wall and Nene and the addition of Bradley Beal in the draft further exemplifies this point. Drastic change was needed in Washington after the Gilbert Arenas era and the team has undergone a full rebirth, from the owner, to the coach, even to the jerseys to try and change the toxic environment at the Verizon Centre.

With the final purge of that roster completed when Nick Young left for Philadelphia, the Wizards can look forward to a bright future with players like Travis Booker, Jan Vesely, Wall and Beal the future of this team. This is a very young team and under Coach Randy Wittman, is still a few seasons off developing into a playoff threat, especially with players like Vesely but there is life in the franchise again.

However, the health of both Wall and Nene may limit this team in their development this season as Wall is out with a stress injury in his right knee that requires rest. This may cause him to miss the opening month of the season, if not more. Nene on the other hand is battling plantar fasciitis, which he aggravated in the London Olympics. While he could play on opening night, this injury could hamper him for the entire season and limit his production. He also missed 10 games last year with the same injury.

Taking all these things into account, the Wizards are still favourites for the 3rd place in this division simply because the other teams are so bad. They won 21 games last year (equivalent of 26 in a 82 game season) and should be able to finish with somewhere between 25-30 wins on the season.

Orlando is really in the same position that Cleveland was in after Lebron left in 2010. A bunch of role players that used to surround a superstar and a new head coach. At least the positive for Orlando is that they received compensation after Dwight Howard left for Hollywood on August 11th. However the compensation couldn’t have been any worse: they didn’t even receive Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol. They didn’t even get the 3rd best player in the deal, Andre Iguodala. The best player they got was Arron Afflalo from Denver which gives the Magic no player to build around this season.

This roster has some good trade parts but there isn’t a lot we can expect from new Coach Jacque Vaughn in his first season. Afflalo began to take big steps in Denver last season so Magic fans are hoping he can emulate that success in a new offense. Players like JJ Redick and Glen Davis will be required to step up and take greater scoring responsibility after they lost their 2nd highest scorer Ryan Anderson to the Hornets. Seasoned veterans like Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson will be required to steer the team through this tough period post Dwight.

The team is still going to be a great 3 point shooting team but there will be less open looks without a star like Dwight in the post. With the best playmaker on the roster as Turkoglu, Magic fans can expect a very bleak year of about 20 wins.

The Charlotte Bobcats have really struggled since making their playoff debut as a franchise in the 2009-10 season. They hit rock bottom last season, posting a record of 7-59 which equated to the lowest win percentage in league history. After losing All-star Gerald Wallace and Captain Stephen Jackson to trades, the Bobcats have been a leaderless mass and lost the last 23 games of last season.

Many think the Bobcats should’ve had Anthony Davis

There are promising signs after they drafted combo guard Kemba Walker and defensive stopper Bismack Biyombo in the 2011 draft and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the 2012 draft and found a severely underrated player in Byron Mullins from the Thunder, but overall this roster is very much a project in the making. Scoring will be hard to come by, even with Ben Gordon and Gerald Henderson on the team and the defence could be even worse under new Coach Mike Dunlap.

This will again be a rebuilding year for the Bobcats but I expect they’ll do better than last season to get somewhere around 15 wins and last place in the division.

Tune in tomorrow for the Atlantic Division preview

Ben Sathananthan is a first year Sport Journalism student at Latrobe University. You can follow him on Twitter at: @bensathsports

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