One team does not a division make.
The Southeast Division may be home to the reigning NBA Champions, but there’s a reason why the Heat are once again such an overwhelming favorite at the expense of Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, and Washington. And it’s not because they are damn good.
They are, but the questions surrounding Miami’s competition are plentiful.
(Southeast Division odds provided by 5Dimes, all other odds provided by Sportsbook.ag)
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Atlanta Hawks (+1500)
The Hawks are coming off another typical season in which they snagged the Eastern Conference’s fourth-best record then went down to Boston in six games during the first round of the playoffs.
Atlanta, which again relied too heavily on isolation sets for the now-departed Joe Johnson, averaged 96.6 points per game (17th in the NBA) and shot 45.4 percent of the floor (11th). Despite missing Al Horford for most of the season due to injury, the Hawks (40-26 straight up, 36-28-2 against the spread) held opponents to 93.2 ppg (sixth fewest in the league) and limited them to 44.4 percent shooting (11th best).
This Atlanta team, however, will look much different with Johnson in New Jersey. The Hawks (+4000 to win the East, +10000 to win the NBA Finals) should be far more sweet-shooting thanks to the additions of Kyle Korver via free agency, Anthony Morrow via trade, and John Jenkins via the draft. A full season of Horford should command defenses to respect the paint, especially if five-tool forward Josh Smith starts playing down low where he belongs.
Charlotte Bobcats (+20000)
It can’t get any worse for the Charlotte Bobcats. Literally. The 2011-12 team finished a horrendous 7-59, “good” for a .106 winning percentage that was even lower than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers’ 9-73 mark.
Not surprisingly, the Bobcats (7-59 SU, 23-43 ATS) were terrible in every way. They scored by far the fewest points in the league (87.0 ppg) and shot worse than anyone (41.4 percent). On the defensive end of the floor, Charlotte was 27th (100.9 ppg) and its opponents .475 shooting percentage was second best in the NBA.
Charlotte (+5000 to win the East, +10000 to win it all) is going to be bad this year. Probably real bad. But the future outlook might be positive under new head coach Mike Dunlap, and because general manager Rich Cho appears to be far more capable of making basketball-related decisions than owner Michael Jordan. He signed Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions, and Brendan Haywood in addition to drafting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist second overall.
The ‘Cats will be more explosive and should be able to play better defense with Haywood and an improved Bismack Biyombo. Of course, that’s not saying a lot!
Miami Heat (-1700)
LeBron James can forever call himself an NBA Champion as Miami got the best of Oklahoma City to win the title. And it was no fluke. The Heat (46-20 SU, 32-34 ATS) were solid from start to finish last season. They were fourth in field-goal-percentage, sixth in rebounding differential, and seventh in scoring. They also held opponents to 92.5 ppg (fourth best in the NBA) and 43.4 percent shooting (fifth best).
There’s not much to say about this team that people don’t already know, but it should be even better. Aside from coaching (not even a championship will convince anyone of Erik Spoelstra), long-range shooting was the only serious knock on the Heat (-200 to win the East, +225 to win it all). Now, in addition to Shane Battier and Mike Miller (of seven three pointers in Game 5 fame), they have Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.
Boston can throw a hissy fit all it wants, but “Jesus Shuttlesworth” made the right decision in his late-career quest for another title.
Orlando Magic (+5500)
The Magic (37-29 SU, 34-32 ATS) had a decent enough regular season, but they lost four in a row to Indiana after winning Game 1 in the first round of the playoffs. They better get used to it, because they were without Dwight Howard for all five games, and now they’ll be without him this entire season.
Orlando finished 21st in scoring last season (94.2 ppg) and 22nd in shooting (44.1 percent). One bright spot for the team was three-point prowess (37.5 percent), and it will need more of the same, especially now that Howard is in Los Angeles. Defensively, the Magic were in the middle of the road in most categories—worse than usual since Howard was less than 100 percent.
But don’t worry about the year gone by. No team looks more different than Orlando (+5000 to win the East, +10000 to win it all). Howard is gone. So, too, is head coach Stan Van Gundy, replaced by Jacque Vaughn. More player movement is expected before this season’s trade deadline. For now, veterans Glen Davis, Al Harrington, Jameer Nelson, and J.J. Redick will attempt to save this squad from the cellar and achieve mediocrity.
Washington Wizards (+8000)
The Wizards are no longer in the discussion of worst teams in the league like they were in 2008 and 2009, but the John Wall era has been stuck in neutral as opposed to taking the franchise north.
Washington (20-46 SU, 29-36-1 ATS) shot the ball poorly last season (44.1 percent, 32.0 percent from downtown) and didn’t play much defense, either (98.4 ppg). Wall and company also turned the ball over 15.3 times per contest, seventh most in the NBA.
The Wizards (+5000 to win the East, +10000 to win it all) should be much-improved, especially on the defensive end. Nene was brought in at the trade deadline, and offseason trade acquisitions include Emeka Okafor and Trevor Arizona. Rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal is a project, but he will likely help the offense right away. The bottom line is that it’s time for Wall, who finally has pieces around him, to take off and take this team to the playoffs or at least to the brink of them.
NBA Predictions for Southeast Division Order of Finish:
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