NBA preview: Southeast
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
October 14, 2005
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If the Heat are the Beatles, then the rest of the Southeast Division is made up of roadies – they're just setting the stage for Miami's anticipated postseason run.
This is by far the most predictable division in the NBA, with the Heat being a foregone conclusion to win it. Miami will use the regular season to try to figure out how to fit all the pieces together. Meanwhile, Washington and Orlando hope to sneak into the playoffs, while Atlanta and Charlotte simply seek respectability.
All in all, the division is not exactly a breeding ground for championship basketball, but it may be an ideal place for a Miami team that needs time to become title contenders. Here's how I see the Southeast shaking out.
1. Miami Heat
Outlook: Shaq and Wade will dominate games regardless of who's on the floor with them. Miami will run away with the division, but this team was built to win a championship. Success in the postseason depends on how much each player is willing to sacrifice. If the Heat players forget about statistics, share the ball, extend themselves defensively, and compete on a nightly basis, Shaq could lead them to a title.
2. Washington Wizards
Worst-case scenario: The Wizards become a jump-shooting team and too perimeter-oriented. The inside game is nonexistent, and the magic from a year ago disappears. Arenas scores a ton of points, but he can't repeat his performance from last season. The Wizards miss the playoffs.
Outlook: It will be tougher for the Wizards this year because they can't sneak up on anyone. The toughest jump to make in the NBA is not from the lottery to the playoffs; it's from the playoffs to elite status. Washington simply doesn't have enough inside to be a well-rounded team, and it will rely too much on Arenas. The Wizards could slide out of the playoffs.
3. Orlando Magic
Worst-case scenario: Howard is the forgotten man on the block and Francis neglects to get him the ball enough. Hill suffers a letdown after his remarkable comeback in 2004-05, and the Magic stumbles along to a subpar performance. They miss the playoffs for a third straight year.
Outlook: They have to improve, if only because Howard has the look of a superstar, and he'll be much better with one NBA season under his belt. Brian Hill will make sure his young big man gets the ball, but he has to help his team forge an identity, which will take some time. The Magic will have a tough time making the playoffs.
4. Atlanta Hawks
Worst-case scenario: The Hawks remain the Hawks. Johnson isn't really a point guard, and the team is a rudderless ship. The youth and inexperience are glaring, and Atlanta takes another trip down Lottery Lane.
Outlook: Atlanta will be better because the talent level has been upgraded. But this is still a very young team that needs an inside game and time to grow. The Hawks will score enough points to beat teams on some nights, but their defense won't be good enough to win on their off-nights. Twenty-six wins sounds about right – which is 13 more than last year.
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Worst-case scenario: Okafor hurts his back, Felton isn't ready to play and the Bobcats are simply an upgraded version of last season's team that won 18 games. They head back to the lottery and search for more talent.
Outlook: Charlotte is making progress, but it is on a long-term plan. The Bobcats' young players will continue to develop and grow together, but they're still a long way from being competitive on a nightly basis. Anything more than 25 wins would be a great showing.
Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Friday, Oct 14, 2005 9:06 am, EDT