The NBA Southeast division produced three playoff teams last season, and also had the NBA Eastern conference champion in the Miami Heat. The Southeast division should continue to be competitive in this upcoming season; however, there is no dominant team in the division anymore. The Miami Heat finished last season with ten more wins then the second place Washington Wizards. Now with a Heat team that lost its best player in LeBron James, the Southeast division is up for grabs, and has three main contenders going into this season. The Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Washington Wizards are all expected to compete for the top spot in the division. However, the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic are not pushovers, as both teams have talented rosters and will be able to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks began the year as a very dangerous team last season. However, after losing Al Horford to a pectoral muscle injury 29 games into the season, the Hawks lost their leading scorer and a big man to effectively guard the paint. Still, Paul Millsap stepped up in Horford’s presence, keeping the Hawks in the playoff hunt. Millsap averaged 18.6 PPG and 8.5 RPG last season, also earning a trip to his first all-star game. Point guard Jeff Teague broke out on the seen last season for the Hawks, averaging 16.5 PPG and 6.7 APG. Atlanta also has one of the best shooters in the NBA in Kyle Korver, who averaged 2.6 three pointers a game last season. Atlanta also signed defensive-specialist Thabo Sefolosha to help improve an all-ready average defensive into a good defensive. The Hawks are a pass-friendly team, averaging 25 APG. However, with Horford’s abstinence, Atlanta struggled getting rebounds. The Hawks ranked 28th in the NBA in rebounds last season, only averaging 40 RPG. The Hawks have recently been in the playoff hunt almost every year. With a healthy Horford coming back this season, the Hawks have the pieces to compete for a playoff spot. However, it is unlikely that Atlanta makes a long playoff run this season due to health issues and the talented teams that top the Eastern Conference.
After years of disappointment, and finishing as one of the worst teams in the NBA, Charlotte qualified for the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010. Charlotte won 43 games last year, which was 22 wins better then they finished with in the 2012-2013 season. With a lot of young talent on their roster, the Hornets are expected to finish as of the top seven teams in the Eastern Conference this season. The Hornets had a great draft this offseason, selecting power forward Noah Vonleh from Indiana University to add depth to the position, as well as picking a versatile scorer in P.J. Hairston. In addition to these draft selections, the Hornets signed Lance Stephenson from free agency this offseason. Stephenson is one of the most versatile guards in the league. He averaged 13.8 PPG and 7.6 RPG last season with the Pacers. He is also a good defensive player, which will improve Charlotte’s all-ready strong defense that allowed only 97 points per game to their opposing team last season. These additions should fit together nicely with the young talent Charlotte already has on its roster. Many sport’s critics believe Charlotte’s point guard, Kemba Walker, has a lot of unfulfilled potential, and can still grow into a star in the NBA. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, whose talent was on display in college at the University of Kentucky, is another developing talent who has the potential to transition into a key starter this season. The Hornets have a lot of young talent and have added pieces to improve their team further this offseason. The Hornets are expected to make the playoffs again this season, and may have the talent to make a deep postseason run.
The Heat won two championships in the last three seasons. However, much of that success was a part of having LeBron James on their roster. Not only did the Heat lose James, but they also lost veteran Ray Allen, whose shooting performances were a key piece of the team’s success. On paper, the Heat do not look like a championship contender any longer, as James left his “Big 3” in Miami to create another one in Cleveland. However, the Heat should still finish as one of the top eight teams in the Eastern Conference. The other two pieces of the Heat’s “Big 3” are still in Miami. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh are expected to lead the team this season. Wade and Bosh averaged 19 and 16.2 PPG, respectively, last season. A lot of the Heat’s success will depend on whether Wade and Bosh will be able to carry the team without James accompanying them. Wade is not in his prime any longer and has recently dealt with injury issues, which is a bad sign for Heat fans. In order for the Heat to find success in the postseason, Wade will need to stay healthy and be a reliable and effective scorer. By signing Loul Deng, the Heat acquired a good talent at the small forward position. Miami also signed power forward Josh McRoberts and a reliable bench player in Danny Granger. By making these signings, the Heat made it clear that they do not want to “tank” this season. With talent on the roster, Miami should find themselves in the postseason in May. However, it is unlikely the Heat will make the NBA finals for a fifth season in a row. The team has injury concerns and is without a real star. The Miami starters and role players will really need to step up in order for the team to compete for another championship.
The Magic have nothing to lose this season. Orlando’s roster is full of young and developing talent. Tobias Harris, Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo were the second, third and fourth leading scorers for the Magic last season. Those three combine for seven years of NBA experience, and 42.6 PPG last year. In the draft this offseason, the Magic filled their hole at point guard by drafting 20-year old Elfrid Payton from Louisiana-Lafayette University. Orlando also added more depth to their frontcourt by selecting athletic power forward Aaron Gordon from the University of Arizona. The amount of success the Magic will find this year will rely on how much their young talent improved this offseason. The players on their team may have developed dramatically since last season, which will lead the Magic to a lot of success this year. However, the Magic are planning for the future. This season is not Orlando’s priority, as the franchise’s main goal is to develop these young players and have a strong playoff team within a few years.
The Wizards made one of the biggest jumps of any team last season, winning 44 games and making it to the Eastern Conference semifinals. This was the Wizard’s first playoff appearance since 2007. Despite the improvements the Wizards made last season, they face a lot of pressure coming into this season. John Wall and Bradley Beal are expected to get over their “playoff hump,” meaning they are expected to make a run in the postseason and should not make “inexperienced” and careless mistakes. Washington brings back four of its five starters from last season. Marcin Gortat and Nene will also be expected to make improvements this season, as Gortat has played a year in Washington and should be more comfortable. Nene, like most years, will be expected to stay healthy in order for Washington to find success in the postseason. The Wizards lost one of their key shooters and defenders this offseason in Trevor Ariza. However, Washington hopes that their big signing this offseason, veteran Paul Pierce, will be able to take over Ariza’s position and produce at the small forward position. The Wizards are a high-energy team on both sides of the ball, and will be expected to play well after many of their players gained playoff experience last year. Washington is a very dangerous team when its roster stays healthy. However, losing significant starters and role players to injury may hinder Washington’s success this season. The Wizards are expected to finish as a top team in the Eastern Conference this season and make a meaningful run in the playoffs.