Wizards vs. Hornets final score: Washington run off the floor in 133-109 loss to Charlotte

The Wizards added another embarrassing loss to their collection this season as they fell to the Hornets 133-109 on Wednesday night.

Seven Charlotte players scored in double-figures led by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with 21 points as the Hornets came out on fire to put the Wizards away early in this one.

Bradley Beal was one of the few bright spots for the Wizards as he scored 26 points (20 in the first half), but also coughed the ball up five times. Mike Scott and Kelly Oubre also played well, scoring 18 and 16 points respectively as they played heavy minutes while Markieff Morris was mired in foul trouble most of the night.

To put it nicely, this was a less than ideal way to start a five-game road trip.

Takeaways

An ugly first half defensively sets the tone for the rest of the game

What if I told you the Wizards would shoot 54 percent from the field, 8-of-10 from three-point range, John Wall would have eight assists, and Bradley Beal would score 20 points all in one half? There’s no way Washington could be losing, right?

Well not only were they losing at halftime, but they borderline getting blown out as the Hornets knocked down 65 percent of their field goals and scorched the nets for a franchise-record 77 points in the first half as they led by 16 at halftime.

Scott Brooks has said it many times that with this team, it all comes down to getting stops defensively. The Wizards did not get the message early on as the Hornets connected on their first 10 field goal attempts and put Washington in an early hole.

A lot has to go right to drop 77 points in a half, but luckily for the Hornets, they were up against a Wizards team who gave up too many easy points in the paint and behind the arc to keep things competitive.

Washington wastes an outstanding three-point shooting night

It’s a shame the Wizards got run off the court because they had one of their best nights shooting the long ball. The Wizards ended the night 13-of-23 from three-point range, and that was after it was skewed by some poor shooting in garbage time. They were 11-of-18 late in the third quarter when Brooks yanked the starters and waved the white flag.

Bradley Beal was stroking it from distance, as he knocked down his first four three-pointers of the game, all from the left wing. John Wall started the second half 2-of-2 from three-point range, his only two of the game while Mike Scott and Kelly Oubre combined to go 4-of-5 (before garbage time) while the game was still in reach.

Game Notes

  • Charlotte scored 77 first-half points, a franchise record.
  • Michael Jordan was not sitting courtside to watch this debacle.
  • Michael Carter-Williams and Jason Smith got tangled up in garbage time of the fourth quarter. Michael Carter-Williams and Tim Frazier were ejected for their extracurricular activities.

After the ejections, the Wizards chose Dwight Howard to shoot the free throws for Charlotte. As you’d probably expect, Howard (who is shooting 52 percent from the line this season) made both.

Next up: The Wizards are off to Detroit to face the Pistons on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.

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Hornets at Wizards Final Score: Wizards ride a hot third quarter to beat the Hornets, 118-111

John Wall logged his 50th double-double of the season with 23 points, 13 assists, and six steals as the Wizards snap their three-game losing streak and beat the Hornets, 118-111. Bradley Beal added 19 points for Washington while Jason Smith scored 17 including a career-high, five made three-pointers.

This one didn’t start out great for the Wizards. Otto missed his first four shots of the game and Gortat missed his first jumper as the Wizards started just 1-7 from the field and found themselves in an early hole. With Washington down 22-14, the starters exiting the game. The bench came right in and picked things up highlighted by Jennings getting out in transition to find Bogdanovic for a wide open three. However, Washington trailed 24-22 after one.

The bench carried that good play over to the second quarter and started the period on an 8-0 run to regain the lead, 32-30. But then Kemba Walker caught fire. Walker did it all for Charlotte as the All-Star scored 17 points in the quarter to stretch the Hornets halftime lead to 12, 63-51.

Scotty Brooks will want to bottle up his halftime speech from this game because the Wizards came out guns blazing to start the third quarter. Washington was able to use a 10-0 run to trim the lead to one, highlighted by this play where Wall raced out in transition to find a cutting Beal for the throw down slam.

Washington started the quarter 10-13 from the field and they’d outscore Charlotte 36-18 in the period as they regained control, 87-81.

Kelly Oubre made his mark on the game in the fourth quarter. After missing a wide open dunk, Oubre made up for it with two wide open threes. The Wizards led by as many as 13 in the fourth quarter but the Hornets had one last ditch effort. Frank Kaminsky hit two threes with under two minutes remaining to cut the Wizards lead to four, 108-104. But with 36.8 seconds remaining, Wall would find Otto in the corner for a three-pointer to seal the game as the Wizards win, 118-111.

Wizards get hot from three-point range

Washington shot 50 percent from three-point range tonight as they connected on 17-34 attempts. As mentioned, Jason Smith knocked down a career-high five three-pointers to help the Wizards win this one. John Wall and Kelly Oubre also added three three-pointers apiece for Washington as they were able to get clean looks from distance tonight.

Wizards get excellent production from the bench

Washington’s bench combined for 45 points tonight led by Jason Smith with 17 and Kelly Oubre with 15. Unlike during the five-game hot streak for Oubre, he did most of his damage tonight either from distance or in the mid-range. Smith led the Wizards with nine three-point attempts but knocked down an efficient, 55.6 percent of those.

The bench is peaking at the best time possible as this team enters the playoffs.

The Wizards can’t escape old ghosts

Washington’s defense wasn’t that great save for the third quarter where they outscored Charlotte 36-18. They were crushed on the boards in the first half but the lopsided third quarter evened things out that you won’t be able to catch in the box score.

Yes, the Wizards got the win. But once again, they let another team eclipse the 110+ mark.

Wizards vs. Hornets final score: Washington goes cold in 98-93 loss to Charlotte

The Wizards went ice-cold from the field, shooting just 37 percent from the field as they lost to the lowly Hornets, 98-93. John Wall and Bradley Bealonly combined for 37 points, shooting 11-30 from the field. Five Hornets players scored in double figures led by Cody Zeller with 19 as the Hornets won an ugly game in Charlotte.

From the start of this one, it looked like we might be in for another up and down affair. Bradley Beal and John Wall started the game by driving down the lane for open dunks while Charlotte was knocking down shots on the other end. Things slowed down midway through the quarter after Beal was sent to the bench with two fouls. Both teams would combine for just nine points the rest of the quarter as the Wizards took a 20-19 lead after one quarter.

The second quarter wasn’t much prettier. Things looked promising for Washington as Ian Mahinmi was able to score around the rim or get to the free-throw line. Brandon Jennings, who’s struggled to score, hit a circus shot with the shot clock winding down as the Wizards took a 29-21 lead. But Kemba Walker would come to life knocking down two three-pointers on back-to-back possessions to help the Hornets take a 35-34 lead.

John Wall came through with the highlight of the night on the next possession, as he pinned a Walker layup against the backboard on a fast break that the Wizards converted into a three-pointer on the other end.

The Wizards only shot 32 percent in the first half but led, 40-39 at halftime.

The third quarter wasn’t a whole lot better for the Wizards. Washington started the quarter just 4-11 from the field as Charlotte jumped out to an eight point lead. But in a game like this one, an eight point deficit felt more like a 20 point deficit. Thankfully, Bojan Bogdanovic, who was quiet for most of the first half, scored the final four points for the Wizards as they were able to trim the lead to 3, 64-61 by the end of the third quarter.

Frank Kaminsky picked a good time to get hot. After missing his first nine shots of the game, Kaminsky connected on four of his five shots in the fourth quarter to help the Hornets take a nine point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Otto Porter responded with timely shots to give Washington a chance late, but Bradley Beal’s step back three to tie the game with nine seconds left came up short.

With the loss, the Wizards are two games behind the Celtics as they prepare to meet on Monday night in Boston. They still hold a two game lead over the Raptors for the third seed.

First half was hard on the eyes

For those of you who like offense, the first half of this game was not for you. Chalk it up to a combination of good defense from both squads and missed wide-open chances. Neither team was particularly effective from three-point range either as the Wizards shot just 25 percent from downtown and the Hornets shot 31 percent.

The John Wall wraparound defense put his teammates in tough situations

This was one of John Wall’s worst defensive games this season. Wall looked tired and uninterested in playing defense tonight against a small and speedy Kemba Walker. As a result, Wall would go over every screen and try his patented wrap around steal from behind. It worked the first time but that was it. Wall tried it again when playing defense in the post and once again, it didn’t work.

Not only did it not work, the defense was left scrambling to rotate and find their man and it resulted in easy baskets for the Hornets on multiple occasions.

The opposing center has another big night

Last night, Robin Lopez had a career night. Tonight, it was Cody Zeller’s turn to stuff the stat sheet. Zeller ended the night with 19 points and 5 rebounds as he dominated both Gortat and Mahinmi. Zeller got going early with dunks around the rim and was a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end with four steals and two blocks. As we know, Gortat is in the midst of a slump and the Wizards are still looking to get Mahinmi into midseason form, but for now, the center position is a hole in the Wizards defense.

Wall, Wizards a buzzkill as Washington drops Charlotte, 109-99.

John Wall led the way with 24 points and seven assists as the Wizards buzz past the Hornets, 109-99. Markieff Morris added 23 points and eight rebounds while Bradley Beal finally got his stroke back with 18 points and knocked down four three-pointers.

The Wizards got off to a hot start in this one hitting on seven of their first 13 shots. Unfortunately, they went cold (1-6) after that. John Wall did not disappoint in a matchup with Kemba Walker which always draws some “oohs” and “ahs” as Wall hit his first five field goals of the game. Kelly Oubre jammed home a breakaway dunk with just .2 seconds remaining as the Wizards led 30-22 after one.

After giving up the lead, the bench continued to battle back. Trey Burke knocked down two jumpers for the Wizards as they led by nine when the starters were reinserted. Washington finished the half off strong on an 8-2 run to take a 60-48 lead into halftime.

After going 1-20 from three-point range over the past three games, Beal found his stroke in the third quarter as he connected on three three-pointers. This time, the Hornets were the beneficiaries of an 8-0 run to end the quarter as the Wizards were up just 6, 80-74 after three.

Once again, the Wizards torched the nets going 8-10 from the field to start the fourth quarter highlighted by this tic-tac-toe pass from Wall to Oubre to Porter for a wide open three.

The Wizards stretched this lead out to 17 at one point but were a little sloppy down the stretch. The Hornets never got closer than eight as the Wizards closed this one out 109-99 and get a much-needed road win.

Beal finds his stroke

After going through one of the worst three-point shooting stretches of his career, Beal looked to have found a rhythm tonight. Beal hit a three-pointer early in the second quarter and you could feel the weight being lifted off of his shoulders. Beal had a hot shooting quarter in the third, as he knocked down three more three-pointers ending the night 4-9 from range. Hopefully, this will be the remedy Beal needed as big games against Boston and Atlanta loom.

Hot starts to the first and fourth quarters

The Wizards started the first quarter 7-13 from the field and 8-10 from the field to start the fourth quarter. That enabled them to gain the lead early and stretch it out late when Charlotte made their inevitable run. The Wizards haven’t been the best team at starting quarters strongly but tonight was different. The hot fourth quarter start was much ado to the bench play of Burke, Smith, and Oubre who combined for 22 points tonight.

Morris and Porter provide an extra spark

Morris and Porter combined for 37 points and 21 rebounds tonight. It was Porter knocking down threes and grabbing rebounds early on while Morris was the one hitting big shots down the stretch. The duo combined to hit four three-pointers and Morris knocked down all five of his free-throw attempts.

Wall flirts with a quadruple-double as Wiz top the Hornets, 109-106

Six Wizards players scored in double figures led by John Wall with 25 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 7 steals. Bradley Beal chipped in with 20 points, 18 of which coming in the second half as the Wizards hang on for a much-needed win against the Hornets, 109-106.

Like we’ve become accustomed to, the Wizards fell behind early in this one due to the hot shooting from the Hornets who knocked down 10 of their first 14 shots. With Markieff Morris out due to a foot injury, Jason Smith was the first player off of the Wizards bench and he contributed right away. Smith knocked down several mid-range jumpers and was in the right place at the right time as the Wizards used a 7-0 to cut the Hornets lead to 2, 43-41, midway through the second quarter.

Nicholas Batum would hit a tough three-pointer followed by a close-in jumper as the Hornets had a 54-49 advantage at halftime.

After a 10-0 run by the Hornets in the third quarter, the Wizards flipped the script with a 10- run of their own led by opportunistic defense leading to easy buckets on the other end for the home squad. Wall poked the ball away on the defensive end leading to an Otto Porter layup as Wall is now the leading steal-man in Wizards franchise history.

The Wizards outscored the Hornets 38-23 to take a 87-77 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Hornets would sting back. Marco Belinelli tried to force his way into the Wizards Killer club with three three-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Hornets in this game. Things got testy with Wall and Belinelli as Wall went up for a layup, thought he got fouled, only to give Belinelli his piece of mind resulting in a technical.

John Wall would hit two elbow jumpers down the stretch to close this game out as the Wizards hang on and win, 109-106.

John Wall turns in a terrific performance

As mentioned, Wall finished the night with 25 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and 7 steals tonight, anointing him as the Wizard with the most steals in franchise history. It’s easy sometimes to take Wall for granted as he’s often left alone on an island but nights like these remind you how special of a player he is. Wall has yet to notch a triple-double this season, but don’t worry, it’s on its way.

Bradley Beal starts off cold but ends strong

Bradley Beal started off ice cold missing his first six shots as he scored just two points in the first half. Beal flipped the script in the second half with 18 points, 11 of which coming in the third quarter and was a major part of the Wizards big run. Even with a cold first half, Beal was cool and collective in the second half and didn’t force shots. The three ball started to fall for him (3/7) and he hit several key mid-range jumpers down the stretch for this team. After a 0/6 start, Beal went 6/10 the rest of the way. Nice to see him bounce back.

Start the Kelly Oubre hype train

Kelly Oubre scored 12 points to go along with 7 rebounds in his starter role tonight. As mentioned, Morris sat out tonight’s game due to a foot injury so we saw the “lineup of death” right from the get-go. To no surprise, Oubre looks way more confident playing alongside the starters as he’s reaped the benefits of the John Wall effect. He took some gambles on defense again tonight but they paid off (2 steals) and resulted in easy baskets for the Wizards. I don’t think Oubre should be inserted as a starter if Morris is healthy, however, he’s become a much-needed spark for this team.

A way too early ranking of the Eastern Conference

Last week we took a look at how the teams stack up early in the Southeast Division.

Now let’s see how the entire Eastern Conference stacks up now that free agency is in the rearview mirror.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs just won the championship. Cleveland just re-signed LeBron James to a three-year deal. Not much else to discuss here. Let’s keep moving.

2. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are here by default. After making their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance in team history, the Raptors are looking to build on that momentum to carry them even further. They re-signed All-Star DeMar DeRozan to a five-year $145 million dollar year to keep the dynamic backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan intact.

Bismack Biyombo played out of his mind during the playoffs earning him a large payday but with the Orlando Magic. Many think that Biyombo’s departure could potentially set the Raptors back. I disagree. Biyombo is a backup center and a rim protector. He averaged 5.5 points and eight rebounds during the regular season but those numbers jumped 6.2 points and 9.4 rebounds during the postseason. Biyombo is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive end but is very limited on the offensive end. He’s a classic energy guy who happened to explode on a national stage at the right time. Yes, they’ll miss his defensive presence and shot-blocking; it’s just, I don’t think that’s enough to set the entire team back.

The Raptors replaced Biyombo with the acquisition of Jared Sullinger. As a starter last season, Sullinger averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds for the Celtics. However this year, he’s expected to come off of the bench for the Raptors. Sullinger’s playing style is the opposite of Biyombo. Sullinger is shorter in stature but throws his weight around to gain position in the paint. Sullinger can stretch the floor and is effective in doing so as he shot 44.1 percent from shots 5-9 feet from the basket and 44.9 percent on shots 20-24 feet from the hoop.

He isn’t a great three-point shooter but is capable of knocking them down as he shot a modest 28.2 percent from distance last season which is better than most centers.

The Raptors did what they had to do to stay at the top of the Eastern Conference. They may not scare Cleveland, but keeping DeRozan and other key players intact will make them a force to be reckoned with next season.

3. Boston Celtics

The Celtics return four of their five starters from last season. They upgraded at the center position in acquiring Al Horford to fill the void left by Jared Sullinger. Although Horford is 30 years old, the former All-Star is an instant upgrade over Sullinger as he averaged more points (15.2), shot better from the field (50.5 percent), and shot better from three-point range (34.4 percent).

Plug in rookie Jaylen Brown and now the Celtics have another long wing to go alongside Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko, and Gerald Green.

Additionally, according to ESPN.com, the Celtics are projected to have the easiest schedule in the league next season.

This team still lacks an “alpha dog” as I don’t believe Isaiah Thomas has reached that level yet. However, they still have a very good roster and one of the top coaches in the NBA. The arrow continues to point up for this team.

4. Indiana Pacers

The Indiana Pacers didn’t get much publicity but positioned themselves very well for next season. The Pacers upgraded at point guard acquiring Indianapolis native Jeff Teague from the Atlanta Hawks in a three-team trade. Teague and Hill shot almost identical shooting percentages from three-point range and from the field, however,Teague averaged more points (15.7) and assists (5.9).

Us Wizards fans know that Ian Mahinmi is now gone from the Pacers. The Pacers seem very pleased and confident to move forward with second-year player Myles Turner at center and they also signed a Swiss Army Knife player in Thaddeus Young.

The Pacers secured up the center position with Al Jefferson and it’s very clear that Paul George is back to his superstar ways. The Pacers do have a new coach in Nate McMillan to get used to, however; this team looks poised to take a step forward after getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

5. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons bring back essentially the same roster that they had last season after re-signing All-Star center Andre Drummond. In somewhat of an under the radar move, the Pistons acquired Boban Marjanovic from the Spurs to play the backup center position. He is still somewhat of an unknown as he didn’t get too much playing time in San Antonio, however, he’s coming from the best culture in the NBA and will practice against one of the best centers in the NBA in Andre Drummond.

Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris will now have the entire offseason to get acclimated with the team rather than learning on the fly in just 30 games prior to the postseason. The Pistons have a nice core of players and young guys such as Stanley Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who should continue to get better with time.

Expect a big step forward from the Pistons this season.

6. Charlotte Hornets

The losses of Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee sting; No doubt about it. But as Kemba Walker enters his sixth NBA season, I feel that he’s on the verge of a breakout year. Walker scored a career-best 20.9 points last season. After getting snubbed from the All-Star game, Walkers’ numbers ballooned to 25.2 points, 6.1 assists, and 5.6 rebounds in the three weeks afterward. Walker has had his superstar moments evidenced by his 52-point game against the Jazz last season. We’ve seen Walker perform at All-Star levels in stretches; now’s the time where he does it for an entire season.

Outside of Walker, the Hornets kept many key guys intact by re-signing Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist still around along with young, fresher guys in Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky, and Jeremy Lamb to round out the roster. That’s enough to make the Hornets the early favorites to win the Southeast division.

7. Washington Wizards

The Wizards return their starting five (after the All-Star game) from last season. The big X-factor this season will be Bradley Beal. Will he stay healthy? That’s the $128 million dollar question. Although he feels his injury woes are behind him, the elephant in the room will remain until Beal proves that he can stay healthy as the four-year player averages just 62 games played per season in his short four-year career.

Another uncertainty for the Wizards is Otto Porter’s development. He has continued to develop over the past three seasons, however if the Wizards are going to be relevant in the playoff race again, they’ll need Porter to take yet another step forward. He needs to continue to increase his scoring as the front office is all in on him and Kelly Oubre at the small forward position.

John Wall on the mend from knee surgery and Bradley Beal’s health are a constant question mark, so if Porter can take on more of a scoring load for this team early; that will pay dividends down the road.

8. Miami Heat

Let me preface this by saying this ranking assumes Chris Bosh DOESN’T play next season.

The Heat lost key players in Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Joe Johnson to free agency. That hurts. The team will now be counting on Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and up and comer Justice Winslow to carry the torch for this team.

The Heat should be just fine defensively as Eric Spoelstra is known for his defensive schemes however the offense is another question. Hassan Whiteside is limited offensively, the team replaced Wade with Dion Waiters, but will count on Goran Dragic to carry the scoring load. Dragic has averaged 20 points for a season just once in his career and if the Heat are going to be competitive this year, he’ll need to do that again.

The wildcard here is Chris Bosh. As mentioned, Bosh has been dealing with blood clots over the past two years causing him to miss 67 games over the past two seasons. If Bosh is cleared to play and can stay healthy, that should be enough for the Heat to make the playoffs. If he can’t, the Heat will probably be on the outside looking in.

9. Chicago Bulls

Will the Bulls make any three-pointers next year? It can be assumed that Rondo, Wade, and Butler will be starting at the point guard, shooting guard, and small forward positions. None of them shoot threes very well. That leaves Nikola Mirotic, the team’s power forward, as the Bulls’ best three-point option.

10. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks lost Jeff Teague and Al Horford in the offseason. Yes, they signed Dwight Howard but he has proven that he’s not the easiest teammate to play with. In addition, Dennis Schroder will now be counted on to lead this team. There’re too many unknowns right now. Expect the Hawks to fall out of the playoffs.

11. New York Knicks

Derrick Rose was right. The Knicks did form a “Super-Team”…… if the year was 2011. The Knicks should have an improved record now that there’s more talent surrounding Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. It’s just the players they signed in Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee are injury prone or are already past their prime.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

I thought the Bucks would break out last year but they didn’t. They have youth, size, athleticism, and a good coach (so we think). They fooled me last year. Now I need to see the improvement to believe it.

13. Orlando Magic

The Magic added size and athleticism in the offseason. Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka are good players; however, scoring is not their strong suit. Scoring for this team will be difficult.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

They went 10-72 last season and drafted the preseason favorite for rookie of the year in Ben Simmons. Can only go up from here, right?

15. Brooklyn Nets

Close your eyes Nets’ fans.

A Way Too Early Ranking of the Southeast Division

When the clock struck midnight on July 1, 2016, we were introduced to a new era of NBA Free Agency. Players deservingly, and some undeservingly, signed eight and nine figure deals with the new salary cap skyrocketing making it feel like a frantic scene out of Wolf of Wall Street rather than your standard free agency period.

Now that the storm has passed and all of the major signings are complete, lets look at how the teams stack up in the Southeast Division. And specifically, do the Wizards have a shot at winning the division this season with their new acquisitions?

1. Charlotte Hornets

Key Signings – Nicolas Batum (Re-signed), Marvin Williams (Re-signed)

Key Losses – Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee

Jeremy Lin had arguably his best and most consistent season since his “Linsanity” season in 2012 as he averaged 10.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists coming off of the bench. Those numbers soared to 17.5 points, 4 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in his 13 games as a starter. After playing in just 28 games with the Hornets, Courtney Lee opted to walk and sign with the Knicks this offseason. His numbers won’t blow you away however Lee averaged 8.9 points on 44.5 percent shooting in his brief Charlotte stint. He is a solid 3-D guy who defends the perimeter well and can score without his number being called a ton. The Hornets will miss this duo however they seem confident some combination of Walker, Lamb, Sessions, and Roberts will be able to fill the void left by Lin and Lee.

With that said, the Hornets kept their key players of Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist intact while they continue to groom their younger guys in Cody Zeller, Jeremy Lamb, and Frank Kaminsky. Couple that as they now have serviceable veterans such as Brian Roberts and Ramon Sessions. Suddenly, the Hornets have a stable of guards that they can mix and match based on the flow of the game.

The Hornets were the seventh best three-pointing shooting team in the NBA connecting 36.2 percent of their three pointers last season. Don’t expect that to change much as three of their top three-point shooters in Kemba Walker, Marvin Williams, and Frank Kaminsky all return.

Lastly, Kemba Walker is due for a breakout season. He averaged 20.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 5.2 assists last season and had moments of super-stardom highlighted by a 52 point outburst against the Jazz last season. It’s been documented that Walker has a chip on his shoulder after being snubbed from last year’s All-Star game and is on the verge of breaking out as one of the top guards in the NBA. Don’t be surprised if it happens as he enters his sixth NBA season. 

The Hornets went 48-34 last season earning them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Expect them to build on that momentum. No Crying Jordan meme here.

2. Miami Heat

Key Signings – Hassan Whiteside (Re-signed)

Key Losses – Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson

Outside of the Hawks (which we’ll get to later), the Heat took the second biggest hit in free agency losing a once-thought face-of-the-franchise player in Dwayne Wade as well as key guys in Luol Deng and Joe Johnson. With that said, the Heat still have a very solid core intact with Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and second-year player Justise Winslow.

The wildcard here is Chris Bosh. He has experienced blood clots over the past two seasons that have limited him to playing in just 44 and 53 games respectively. If Bosh is cleared medically to play, that’s enough to bump the Heat up to the #1 spot as the team to beat in the Southeastern Division.

The Heat will still be a team to be reckoned with out east and should comfortably make the playoffs. It’s just hard to downplay losing a player that was once the face of the franchise and potentially losing Bosh for parts if not all of the season.

3. Washington Wizards

Key Signings – Bradley Beal (Re-signed), Ian Mahinmi

Key Losses – Jared Dudley, Garrett Temple, Nene

Like the Hornets, the Wizards kept their core intact by signing Bradley Beal and keeping all five members of their starting five. In addition, the Wizards got a bit younger and more athletic off the bench by adding Andrew Nicholson and Ian Mahinmi.

The main question is, how will this team adapt to their third system in as many years while welcoming a new coaching staff? Mainly, will they buy in on the defensive end? It’s no secret that the Wizards fell off last season, finishing 13th in Defensive Efficiency.

The Wizards also allowed their opponents to shoot 46.2 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from three-point range; ranking them in the bottom third of the league. Clearly, the Wizards must buy in on the defensive end if they are going to put this past season’s failures in the rearview mirror.

Obviously they can’t control this, but the injury bug hit the Wizards hard last season. Bradley Beal played in just 55 games this past season while Kris Humphries, Gary Neal, and Alan Anderson; guys thought to be key contributors to the team appeared in just 28, 40, and 13 games respectively.

It’s clear that the Wizards needed a new voice as the team began zoning out Randy Wittman midway through the season. If the Wizards buy in on the defensive end and can stay relatively healthy, there’s no reason why they can’t jump ahead of Charlotte and Miami and shoot up to the top spot in the wide-open Southeastern Division.

4. Atlanta Hawks

Key Signings – Dwight Howard, Kent Bazemore (Re-signed)

Key Losses – Al Horford, Jeff Teague

Of all of the teams in the Southeast Division and maybe even the Eastern Conference, I think the Hawks will take the biggest step back this year. This offseason, arguably their two best players in Al Horford and Jeff Teague left the team for greener pastures. The team responded by handing the keys over Dennis Schröder and acquiring the often disgruntled Dwight Howard.

Although still effective, key players such as Paul Milsap and Kyle Korver are getting older. Korver played in 80 games last season but averaged just 9.2 points per game and shot 39.9 percent from three-point range; his lowest outputs since arriving in Atlanta. Outside of Korver, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jarrett Jack round out the team’s guard depth. If the younger Hardaway Jr. can take over some of the scoring load, then that could potentially soften the blow for the Hawks, who finished 18th in Offensive Efficiency last season.

At the power forward position, things are even worse. Outside of Millsap, Kris Humphries and Mike Muscala are the only other power forwards on the roster. That’s a significant drop off from the starter to reserve spot.

On top of all that, the Hawks will now be counting on Kent Bazemore to carry the load offensively with his new 4-year $70 million dollar a year deal. That puts enormous pressure on a guy who was the fourth or fifth option on offense last year and averaged just 11.6 points per game.

The Hawks are trying to replace two of their best players, plug in a player who isn’t the easiest to get along with, and are counting on a new guy to carry the torch for this franchise moving forward. I can’t see all of that coming together in one year.

Expect a drop-off from the Hawks and don’t be surprised if they miss the playoffs altogether.

5. Orlando Magic

Key Signings – Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Evan Fournier (Re-signed), Jeff Green, D.J. Augustin

Key Losses – Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson.

The Magic lost arguably their best player and once thought, face-of-the-franchise player in Victor Oladipo in a trade to the Thunder for Serge Ibaka. The dynamic Oladipo averaged 16 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.9 assists last year for the Magic but he never seemed to jell with Elfrid Payton. Evan Fournier will be plugged in to fill that scoring void. 

I’m in the camp that feels Serge Ibaka’s stats were inflated because he was playing alongside two All-Stars for the beginning of his career. Now, he’ll be counted on to take on more of a leadership role as he’s entering his eighth season. Ibaka averaged 12.6 points this past season, his lowest since 2012. Ibaka will definitely get more shots now that he’s not playing alongside Durant and Westbrook however the defense will be paying more attention to him too. Ibaka can’t disappear like he did during the San Antonio series if the Magic are going to take the next step.

Bismack Biyombo’s stock was sky-high once he was inserted into the starting lineup of the Miami series when Jonas Valanciunas went down with injury. Biyombo averaged 6.7 points and 8.4 rebounds during the Miami series and that increased during the Eastern Conference Finals where he averaged 6.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, to go along with 1.8 blocks.

He cashed in and rightfully so. Only thing is, he’s not a scorer and it’s likely that he’ll be frequently paired up with Aaron Gordon. Both are athletic and good rebounders but neither of the big guys flourishes on the offensive end unless it’s a dunk. As a result, I don’t see the Biyombo signing having a significant impact on this team.

The Jeff Green signing doesn’t make a ton of sense as the oft-injured player is currently the only true small forward on the roster and will likely be forced into the starting five at some point or another. To salvage the somewhat head-scratching deal, the Magic signed the quick and speedy D.J. Augustin to play the backup point guard position on a relatively cheap deal, though he won’t move the needle much.

The Magic are heading in the right direction. They are signing young and effective players while still keeping most of their key guys around. On top of that, they hired Frank Vogel. Just like the Hawks, the Magic will be plugging in new guys in key roles on top of getting used to a new coaching staff.

The arrow is pointing up for this team; I just think they’re still a year or two away from making the playoffs.