Here are some notes on each team in the Southeast division heading into the 2010-11 NBA season:
Orlando Magic: The Miami Heat might sell more NBA tickets, but I expect Orlando to come out on top of the division when it’s all said and done this season. Dwight Howard worked hard in the offseason and I think we’ll finally see some offensive progress from the big man, who has to be motivated by the consistent criticism of his post game, or lack thereof. Howard is pretty much a lock for Defensive Player of the Year on an annual basis, but with an improved offensive game he could make a run at MVP. The Magic are considering sliding Rashard Lewis back to his natural position at the three, which would be a wise move and could also enable them to start Brandon Bass as the four. Bass is one of the more underrated players in the league and has played well enough in the preseason to earn some significant playing time. The Magic are my pick to win the NBA Finals this season.
Miami Heat: It’s going to be a circus surrounding this team all season, whether they’re winning or losing. With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on board, it’s hard to find a ceiling for this team, but I do think they’ll go through an adjustment period early in the season that will have some people pressing the panic button. However, I think they’ll eventually get it straightened out and come close to matching Orlando’s regular season record. This team could have serious trouble with the biggest clubs in the Eastern Conference, though, namely the Magic and Howard. It’s really hard to get a read on this team from the limited action we’ve seen in the preseason, but they’re going to be good. However, don’t underestimate the effect that the bull’s-eye that resides on their collective back will have on the competition.
Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks spent a lot of money to keep Joe Johnson this offseason and didn’t really get any better in the process. Their 2010 playoff performance was incredibly underwhelming and makes me think the conference will begin to pass them by this season. They’ve got talent, but I don’t love their makeup or leadership. I still think they’re a playoff team, but not one that will win a series.
Charlotte Bobcats: The Bobcats don’t stand to improve much this season; in fact, they could regress in the wake of Raymond Felton’s departure. Felton was a big part of this team last season and has left some pretty large shoes for D.J. Augustin to fill. I thought Shaun Livingston had a shot at winning the starting job this preseason, but problems with his knee have prevented that.
Washington Wizards: It’s year one of the John Wall era and the rookie will be a focal point of this team’s offensive attack. He should be an impact player from day one, but I’m not sure if it will truly be his team until Gilbert Arenas is gone. Make no mistake, the Wizards are chomping at the bit to ship Agent Zero out of town and let their young talent usher in the new era of Wizards basketball.