Season Preview: Eastern Conference - Southeast Division



EASTERN CONFERENCE - SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Editor’s Note: Timberwolves.com will break down each of the NBA’s six divisions leading into training camp, highlighting the moves each team made and what to watch for during the 2013-14 campaign. Part VI features the Southeast Division, where the Miami Heat still sit atop the NBA mountain as two-time defending champions.

MIAMI HEAT

2012-13 Record: 66-16 (1st Southeast Division, 1st Eastern Conference—Won NBA Title over Spurs 4-3)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 2-0

Additions: Greg Oden (free agent), Eric Griffin (free agent), Chris Andersen (re-signed), Michael Beasley

Losses: Mike Miller (amnesty)

Last year LeBron James played on a completely different level than everyone else. It was his most complete season across the board—he had career bests in field goal percentage (56.5) and 3-point percentage (40.6) while scoring 26.8 points, averaging 8.0 rebounds and 7.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game. As a result, he was rewarded with his fourth MVP award in the past five seasons. More importantly, the Heat won their second straight NBA title in a thrilling seven-game series against the Spurs. With minimal turnover, the Heat look to be the favorites once again and if they’re successful, they could produce the first 3-peat since the Lakers from 2000-02.

In order to do that, the Heat will once again lean heavily on the Big 3 of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade had another strong regular season (21.2 ppg, 5.1 apg, 5.0 apg), but he did get banged up during the postseason. As a result, his productivity dropped—he dipped from hitting 52.1 percent of his regular season field goal attempts to 45.7 in the playoffs. His health is crucial in this equation, because the threat of James and Wade together is too much for most defenses to handle. Bosh (16.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) is another big part of that equation. Shane Battier will continue to add a defensive presence, Ray Allen is still a viable shooting option and the combination of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole at point guard is serviceable. The Heat did lose sharpshooter Mike Miller, and that deep threat off the bench will be missed. They did, however, re-sign “The Birdman” Chris Andersen, who supplied a major front court spark during the playoffs. A big question will be how their other offseason signings contribute this year—Miami brought in injury-plagued former first overall pick Greg Oden as well as former Wolves forward Michael Beasley. If the Heat stay healthy and get a little help from their reserves, this could be Ring No. 3 for King James.


ATLANTA HAWKS

2012-13 Record: 44-38 (2nd Southeast Division, 6th Eastern Conference—Lost Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to Pacers 4-2)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-1

Additions: Jared Cunningham (trade), Gustavo Ayon (waivers), Elton Brand (free agent), Paul Millsap (free agent), Kyle Korver (free agent), Jeff Teague (re-signed), Lucas Nogueira (draft), Dennis Schroeder (draft), Mike Muscala (draft)

Losses: Josh Smith, Anthony Tolliver, DeShawn Stevenson, Devin Harris, Ivan Johnson, Zaza Pachulia, Johan Petro

The Hawks will have a new look this season starting with their leadership on the bench. Larry Drew is out, and Mike Budenholzer—a longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant under Gregg Popovich—is getting his first shot at a head coaching position. He’ll get a chance to move forward with new pieces on this roster. Atlanta parted ways with longtime small forward Josh Smith this offseason, but they brought in a few new pieces in the front court that will help complement Al Horford. Elton Brand joins the Hawks from Dallas, while Paul Millsap makes the move from Utah. Those new pieces will help complement point guard Jeff Teague (14.6 ppg, 7.2 apg), who had his most productive season last year. Kyle Korver helps provide 3-point shooting (45.7 percent shooting last year from deep), and Lou Williams is a nice asset at shooting guard when healthy. He last played in mid-January last year after suffering a knee injury. The Hawks also have two rookies currently on board that are intriguing. Roseville Area graduate Mike Muscala plays in the front court but has a guard’s shooting touch, and Dennis Schroeder is a German point guard who is young but has an intriguing career ahead of him. He’s proven to be pretty solid at running the pick-and-roll.


WASHINGTON WIZARDS

2012-13 Record: 29-53 (3rd Southeast Division, 12th Eastern Conference—Missed playoffs)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-1

Additions: Al Harrington (free agent), Eric Maynor (free agent), Martell Webster (re-signed), Garrett Temple (re-signed), Otto Porter, Jr. (draft), Glen Rice, Jr. (draft)

Losses: None

The Wizards were 5-28 without John Wall in the lineup last year—all of those games coming to start the year when Wall was recovering from a stress injury to his left kneecap. With him in the lineup teamed with last year’s top pick Bradley Beal, the Wizards went 24-25. Think about that turnaround—Washington went from a .151 winning percentage without Wall to a .489 winning percentage with him. If Wall plays a full season this year, how much will coach Randy Wittman’s club improve?

Wall is the motor of this team. He averaged 18.5 points and 7.6 assists per game a year ago, and he teamed very well with Beal (13.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg) in the back court. Those two will be the building blocks for this young club, and adding Eric Maynor as a backup point guard will help bolster Washington’s depth. From there, you add in Georgetown rookie small forward Otto Porter, Jr., who was selected third overall. He’s got a mature presence about him, and adding him to Wall and Beal give Washington fans optimism that this young group can be dynamic down the road. The Wizards also added Glen Rice, Jr., who thrived in the D-League last year, and still has Nene and Emeka Okafor in the front court. Washington has a chance to move into the bottom half of the East’s playoff conversation, and much of it depends on how that young core grows together.


CHARLOTTE BOBCATS

2012-13 Record: 21-61 (4th Southeast Division, 14th Eastern Conference—Missed playoffs)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 2-0

Additions: Al Jefferson (free agent), Anthony Tolliver (free agent), Gerald Henderson (re-signed), Josh McRoberts (re-signed), Jannero Pargo (re-signed)

Losses: Tyrus Thomas (amnesty), DeSagana Diop, Byron Mullens, Reggie Williams

The Bobcats are trying to make strides toward gaining relevance in this division and in the East, and this year’s offseason roster moves help in some regards in making that happen. They added former Wolves center Al Jefferson to the mix, a player who averaged 17.8 points and 9.2 rebounds a year ago for the Jazz. That helps solidify their front court. It remains to be seen how No. 4 overall pick Cody Zeller fits into the mix, but the standout from Indiana will likely add a 7-footer to Charlotte’s schemes that can face-up, stretch the floor and hit some shots from mid-range and out. The team also re-signed Gerald Henderson and added reserve forward Anthony Tolliver to the fold. All these pieces will complement forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and point guard Kemba Walker, two of the team’s best athletes. Walker averaged a team-high 17.7 points per game along with 5.7 assists per night a year ago. His desire to succeed is noticeable every time he steps on the court.


ORLANDO MAGIC

2012-13 Record: 20-62 (5th Southeast Division, 15th Eastern Conference—Missed playoffs)

2012-13 Record vs. Timberwolves: 1-1

Additions: Jason Maxiell (free agent), Ronnie Price (free agent), Victor Oladipo (draft), Romero Osby (draft)

Losses: Al Harrington, Beno Udrih, DeQuan Jones

The Magic enter their 25th season celebration this year with a chance to renew (again). Last offseason, the team parted ways with cornerstone Dwight Howard in a massive multi-team deal that brought Arron Afflalo (among others) to Orlando. The team went through its growing pains last year but was rewarded with a pick near the top of the lottery. They ended up with the No. 2 overall pick and chose thee athletic, defensive guard Victor Oladipo. Oladipo will be the man to watch on this roster as he develops, because after coming out of school as a 2-guard it appears the Magic will also give him a shot at point guard. How that plays into the team’s plans for former All-Star Jameer Nelson is to be determined.

As it stands, the Magic will have Nelson, Oladipo and Afflalo as their top assets on the perimeter. Add in E’Twaun Moore, and there is athleticism to work with in this back court. Up front, Nikola Vucevic showcased himself as an up-and-comer in the league at center, while Glen “Big Baby” Davis averaged 15.1 points and 7.2 boards per night at the power forward spot. And at the 3, Tobias Harris (11.0 ppg) and Moe Harkless will provide a 1-2 punch. The Magic have some pieces but will again struggle within this division. Coach Jacque Vaughn’s biggest role will be nurturing this group in hopes of reclaiming the success the team had in the late 2000’s with those talented DH12-Stan Van Gundy teams.


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