ATLANTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 22: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards handles the ball against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs on April 22, 2017 at Philips Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
Kevin Liles/NBAE via Getty Images

Southeast Division Preview

Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions – John Collins (draft), Dewayne Dedmon (free agent), Marco Belinelli (trade), Luke Babbitt (free agent)

Key Losses – Paul Millsap (Nuggets – free agent), Dwight Howard (Hornets – trade), Tim Hardaway Jr. (Knicks – free agent)

After battling the Wizards in a six-game series in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs last season, the Hawks lost three starters from last season’s team heading into 2017-18. All-Star Paul Millsap went to Denver as a free agent, Atlanta traded Dwight Howard to Charlotte, and Tim Hardaway Jr. left the Hawks for the Knicks. Dewayne Dedmon was a sneaky-good free agency addition who should improve the Hawks’ interior defense.

The Hawks return starters Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore, and second-year forward Taurean Prince. Schroder averaged 17.9 points per game in the regular season in 2016-17 and 24.7 per game against the Wizards in their playoff series. The German point guard will be the Hawks’ main playmaker and top scorer this coming year as the team goes through a rebuild under head coach Mike Budenholzer. Bazemore struggled in his fifth NBA season last year and will be asked to do more, while Prince was an impressive early-bloomer at the three-position.

Atlanta will look for first-round pick John Collins to make an immediate impact. The long 6’10” power forward/center out of Wake Forest showed promise in Summer League and could be a dark horse to win Rookie of the Year. He will get ample opportunities behind Ersan Ilyasova and could be starting by the All-Star break.

Projected Starters

G – Schroder, G – Bazemore, F – Prince, F – Ilyasova, C – Dedmon

Hawks vs. Wizards

2016-17 season: Wizards won regular season series 3-1 and playoff series 4-2.

2017-18 season: Nov. 11 vs. ATL, Dec. 27 @ ATL, Jan. 27 @ ATL, Apr. 6 vs. ATL

Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions – Dwight Howard (trade), Malik Monk (draft), Michael Carter-Williams (free agent) 

Key Losses – Marco Belinelli (Hawks – trade), Miles Plumlee (Hawks – trade), Ramon Sessions (free agent)

The Hornets enter 2017-18 after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign. Charlotte missed the playoffs last season and looks poised to play beyond mid-April this season with the additions of Dwight Howard and Malik Monk, a weaker East, and another year together on the court. Howard may not be in his prime anymore, but still averaged 13.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game last season in Atlanta. Monk slipped to the Hornets at No. 11 overall and should be one of the top scoring rookies in the NBA this season.

The biggest story from the preseason was Nicolas Batum’s left elbow injury, in which he will miss the first few months of the season. Monk and Jeremy Lamb will be asked to do way more in his absence. Batum has been a solid two-way player for several seasons, and the Hornets will miss him a lot during that timeframe.

Kemba Walker, fresh off his first All-Star Game selection, will look to build off his 23.2 points and 5.5 assists per game last season. At 27 years old, this is Walker’s team and it’s his time to become a perennial All-Star and lead the Hornets to the playoffs once again. Alongside Walker are several important role players in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Frank Kaminsky, and Cody Zeller as well as newcomers Howard and Monk.

One of the best-coached teams in the East, Steve Clifford’s Hornets should be back in the postseason once again if they can get by without Batum. They have the pieces to compete night in and night out. Charlotte will need Batum to get healthy and Kidd-Gilchrist to stay healthy in order to reach the team’s full potential.

Projected Starters

G – Walker, G – Bacon, F – Kidd-Gilchrist, F – Kaminsky, C – Howard

Wizards vs. Hornets

2016-17 season: Wizards won regular season 3-1.

2017-18 season: Nov. 22 @ CHA, Jan. 17 @ CHA, Feb. 23 vs. CHA, Mar. 31 vs. CHA

Miami Heat

Key Additions – Kelly Olynyk (free agent), Bam Adebayo (draft) 

Key Losses – Willie Reed (free agent)

The Heat missed out on the playoffs on the last night of the 2016-17 season after an incredible in-season turnaround. Miami returns nearly the same roster as last season with the additions of Kelly Olynyk and first-round pick Bam Adebayo. Justise Winslow (18 games) and Dion Waiters (46 games) only played a combined 64 games last season, and the team still went 30-11 in the second half of the season.

Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic are the team’s best players, and should only improve in 2017-18 season. Whiteside is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.0 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game, and should be primed for an All-Star Game appearance this year. Dragic, who averaged 20.3 points and 5.8 assists per game last season, is fresh off leading Slovenia to the EuroBasket Championship.

Erik Spoelstra proved last season why he’s one of the best coaches in the NBA, getting the most out of role players like James Johnson, Josh Richardson, Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington, and Rodney McGruder. Those guys give the Heat toughness and depth that many teams in the East lack. Miami should make the playoffs with a weaker Eastern Conference and Winslow and Waiters healthy. They present the biggest challenge to the Wizards in the Southeast Division and even swept the season series last year 4-0.

Projected Starters

G – Dragic, G – Waiters, F – Winslow, F – Johnson, C – Whiteside 

Wizards vs. Heat

2016-17 season: The Heat won the season series 4-0.

2017-18 season: Nov. 15 @ MIA, Nov. 17 vs. MIA, Mar. 6 vs. MIA, Mar. 10 @ MIA 

Orlando Magic

Key Additions – Jonathon Simmons (free agent), Jonathan Isaac (draft), Arron Afflalo (free agent), Marreese Speights (free agent)

Key Losses – Jodie Meeks (Wizards), Jeff Green (Cavaliers)

The Magic return much of the same team as last year under second-year head coach Frank Vogel. Jonathon Simmons came over as a free agent from the Spurs and was the Magic’s biggest acquisition of the offseason. Simmons will be one of the top sixth men in the East and gives Orlando another tough two-way player alongside fellow wings Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross. Jonathan Isaac, only 19 years old, will get plenty of opportunities to figure out his position in the NBA and how his game fits.

Nikola Vucevic remains a solid big man down low offensively, while Bismack Biyombo complements him as an elite rim protector. Fournier, Ross, and Simmons give the team depth at wing, but Elfrid Payton and Aaron Gordon need to make big jumps in 2017-18. On the bench, Mario Hezonja and Isaac’s development will be important to watch, while the Magic know what they’re getting out of veterans like Biyombo, Arron Afflalo, and Marreese Speights.

Orlando has a lot of interesting pieces, but the Magic’s ceiling is not as high as most teams in the East. Vogel and the Magic will use this season as another rebuilding season, hoping to get more answers than questions.

Projected Starters

G – Payton, G – Ross, F – Fournier, F – Gordon, C – Vucevic 

Wizards vs. Magic

2016-17 season: The Wizards and Magic split the season series 2-2.

2017-18 season: Dec. 23 vs. ORL, Jan. 12 vs. ORL, Feb. 3 @ ORL, Apr. 11 @ ORL

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