Heat at Wizards Final Score: Wiz commit late turnovers, lose to Heat, 106-103

Markieff Morris leads the way for the Wizards with 21 points while John Wall and Bradley Beal both scored 16 but the Wizards can’t overcome their miscues as they lose to the Heat, 106-103. The Heat were led by Hassan Whiteside who scored 30 points to go along with 12 rebounds as Miami’s playoff hopes are still alive with this win.

Miami started very slow tonight but the Wizards were unable to capitalize. The Heat started the game just 1-8 from the field to go along with five turnovers early but the Wizards only led by eight, 15-7. Miami flipped the switch with a 12-4 run as they were able to claw within one, 29-28 after one quarter.

The Heat regained the lead but were never able to stretch it out to more than five. After some sloppy play from both teams, there was an odd sequence where the Wizards missed an easy opportunity in transition but then picked off Miami’s pass leading to a John Wall three in the corner. We’d be all tied up at 52 at halftime.

Kelly Oubre, who didn’t score in the first half, came alive in the third quarter where he scored 11 points as Washington mounted their comeback run. However, whenever the Wizards got the game to within one, Miami had an answer.

Morris was the best player for Washington tonight and shined in the fourth quarter. Morris scored 12 points in the period including several clutch baskets and a three-pointer to tie the game at 100.

With just 20 seconds remaining and the Heat trailing 103-102, Eric Spoelstra drew up a play for a James Johnson isolation as he finished over Morris to give the Heat a 104-103 lead.

The Wizards threw the ball away on the ensuing inbounds pass and were forced to foul.

Washington had one last chance to tie this game but Bradley Beal couldn’t shoot over the outstretched arms of Hassan Whiteside. Wizards fall, 106-103.

Advertisements

Winning the Southeastern Division is a big deal for the Wizards

Last night, the Washington Wizards beat the Los Angeles Lakers to clinch their first Southeastern Division title since 1979. On the surface, a division title doesn’t look like a big deal as it no longer guarantees home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Hell, it doesn’t even guarantee a playoff birth.

For the Wizards however, this is a monumental achievement.

As us Wizards faithful know, this team has been stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity for the last 35+ years and is on full display at the Verizon Center. It is one of the few arenas where they hang jerseys of players who spent minimal time in Washington and banners for merely making the playoffs. This franchise has gone through several dark periods and now has something to hang their hat on which is more impressive than a star who played just one year with the team or making an appearance in the postseason.

It isn’t winning the division title that’s important, as it doesn’t provide any postseason advantages, but it gives this small yet diehard franchise something to cheer about. For the first time in a long time, the Wizards have a legitimate shot at making and winning the Eastern Conference and have an outside shot at a finals appearance and potentially a championship.

During the days when Gilbert Arenas was the star of the show, it always felt like the team was playing with house money. If they made the playoffs then great but if not, it’s just the ‘same ol’ Wizards’ that we’re used to. Unfortunately during that era, Dwayne Wade and Shaquille O’Neal joined forces in Miami, a Southeastern Division foe. So although the Wizards were fun and exciting during that time, they couldn’t get past the Heat during the regular season.

After the infamous ‘gun gate’, the Wizards began digging themselves out of that dark hole. But they had another problem. The big three of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade joined forces in Miami. So long to winning the division with that core three intact.

But things are different now. Yes, the Southeastern Conference is very weak compared to years past but there’s one thing we cannot overlook. For once, the roster orchestrated by the front office has a chance to be cemented into this franchise’s history and the byproduct just so happens to be a Southeastern Division title.

The Heat burn the Wizards from three-point range, win 114-111.

After an impressive performance against the Knicks on Thursday night, the Wizards turned in an equally unimpressive against the Heat as they lose 114-111 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. John Wall and Bradley Beal scored 34 points a piece, the first time since 2014 that two Wizards players scored 30+ points in the same game but it was all for naught.

The Heat, a team known for their offensive struggles, came out shooting hot to begin this game and it continued throughout, as they’d shoot 51 percent from the field including 13 three-pointers.

The Wizards were down by 17 at one point in the fourth quarter but hit a slew of shots in garbage time to make things look closer than they really were. The Wizards are now 1-2 in during this “easier” stretch of games.

Where’s the defense?

The Heat are one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA averaging just 94.5 points per game. Tonight, they scored 114. Defense was the last thing on the Wizards minds tonight. The Heat had open looks all night, especially from three-point range where they shot an impressive 48 percent (13-27). The Wizards were terrible on their closeouts and often just got lost on that end of the court, in turn, leaving their man wide open and the Heat made them pay.

Morris injury hurts

Markieff Morris rolled his ankle in the second quarter and never returned. That hurt as the Wizards were forced to shuffle their lineups resulting in Jason Smith getting his minutes. For the rest of the game, the Wizards lacked a physical presence on the defensive end as well as someone to get tough buckets in the paint. Hopefully it isn’t too bad as the Wizards can ill afford to get hit by the injury bug right now.

The Wizards need contributions from more players

Only three Wizards scored in double figures tonight. Wall and Beal with 34 a piece while Gortat had 10. The Wizards need more players to step in and score as they were still unable to win a game when Wall and Beal combined for 68 points. After a strong first quarter, Otto Porter disappeared and didn’t score the rest of the game. Satoransky was the high scorer off the bench with eight points including some nice cuts and back downs over smaller defenders.

Things were only good for one night. It’s now time to start questioning where this team’s head is at, again.

10 Predictions for the 2016-2017 NBA Season

The NBA season is right around the corner. Some things are a sure lock yet others remain a complete unknown. Without further ado, let’s go over 10 predictions (I hopefully don’t get too wrong) for this NBA season.

1.  The Warriors and Cavaliers will meet in the finals for a third straight year – Please name one team that has a shot of taking either of these two down. Yeah… that’s what I thought.

2.  The Warriors will win 70+ games – When the over/under odds came out in Vegas and Golden State’s win total was set at 66.5, I did a double take. This team won 73 games last year and they ADDED Kevin Durant. Anytime the Warriors lose this season it will be a major upset and will be all over ESPN and the other sports networks. Barring a major injury, I don’t think 70 wins will be a problem for this team.

3.  The Cavaliers will coast to 60+ wins – Another surprisingly low over/under was Cleveland’s as their win total was set at 56.5. The thing about Cleveland is, even though they won the championship, all of the focus will still be on Golden State this year. With a watered down Eastern Conference that will be worse than it was last year, I don’t think LeBron James and the Cavs will have any troubles eclipsing the 60-win mark. The only way they don’t get to 60 wins is if LeBron James frequently sits out games for rest.

4.  The Houston Rockets will average 112 points per gameThe Rockets averaged 106.5 points per game last year; good enough for the 8-seed out west. I don’t forsee any scoring setbacks now that Mike D’Antoni is head coach of the Rockets. D’Antoni is an offensive minded coach and will be using James Harden at the point guard position this season. Not only will this team score a ton, they won’t be playing any defense as that’s not really D’Antoni’s M.O. Since they won’t be too worried on the defensive end, they’ll be forced to put up gaudy offensive numbers just to stay competitive in games.

5.  The Heat and the Hawks will miss the playoffs – The Heat and the Hawks finished third and fourth in the Eastern Conference last year. The Heat lost the face of the franchise in Dwyane Wade and also lost Chris Bosh due to medical complications. The Hawks, on the other hand, lost Jeff Teague and Al Horford to the Pacers and Celtics respectively in free agency. Both of these teams lost two of their top players and signed average to slightly above-average players to bandage the wounds. Expect both teams to take a major step backward and miss the playoffs.

6.  The Knicks will make the playoffs – I went back and forth on this one. I don’t think Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are able to stay healthy for an entire season but the thing is, the Eastern Conference isn’t going to be as good as it was last year. If Carmelo Anthony can play in 70+ games and Kristaps Porzingis continues to develop as scheduled, that should be enough for the Knicks to win about 40 games and get into the playoffs.

7.  Joel Embiid will win Rookie of the Year – Too bad for all of the guys who got drafted this season as Joel Embiid is the initial favorite to win rookie of the year. He’s on a bad team so he’ll get plenty of playing time. He’ll have free reign as the 76ers will be losing most games. Oh, and let’s not forget, he’s talented as hell. The only thing holding the big man back is injuries. I really hope Embiid can stay healthy because he has the potential to be a special player .

(Vine by cjzero)

8. John Wall will be a top-5 MVP Candidate – Outside of Damian Lillard, John Wall might be the most underrated player in the NBA. Wall averaged 19.9 points and 10.2 assists last season coming up just .1 point shy of becoming the eleventh player in NBA history to average 20 points and 10 assists for a season. He was the only constant for a Wizards team that likely would have only won 25-30 games last season without him. I expect Wall to put up similar numbers this year and because the Wizards should have a better record than last season (41-41), that should get him more recognition and into the top-5 in MVP voting.

9. The Oklahoma City Thunder will barely make the playoffs – The Rockets, Jazz, Timberwolves, and Trail Blazers all got better during the offseason. The Oklahoma City Thunder took a step back as they lost Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. Russell Westbrook will be a man on a mission and will likely put up monster numbers every single night. The issue is, When Kevin Durant went down during the 2014-2015 season, Westbrook put up monster numbers and the team still missed the playoffs. The talent around Westbrook is solid but Durant leaving will leave a bigger dent than people wish to believe. As a result, the Thunder will have to sneak into the playoffs with either the seventh or eighth seed. A Warriors-Thunder first round matchup would be a pretty nice start to the playoffs, no?

10.  Giannis Antetokounmpo will win Most Improved Player – The Greek Freak is entering the fourth year of his NBA career. He’s increased his scoring, rebounding, and assist numbers every season he’s been in the league. Now that he’ll be playing point guard in Jason Kidd’s offense, this is the year the Greek Freak catapults himself onto the scene, maybe even making an All-Star appearance. He’s got the tools to be a Kevin Durant-type player, and this is the year he puts it together.

Bonus: The Warriors will win the championship – They’re pissed about blowing a 3-1 lead in the finals last year. On top of that, there’s no team out west who’ll test them prior to the finals.

The Wizards underwhelm in their preseason debut, lose to the Heat, 106-95

It was only the preseason, but the Wizards looked unimpressive in their loss to the Heat, 106-95. Kelly Oubre Jr. led the Wizards in scoring with 16 points followed by Trey Burke with 14 to go along with 12 from Bradley Beal.

This was sort of what you’d expect from a team’s first preseason game. Poor defense, sluggishness, it was all on display for the Wizards tonight. The Heat jumped out to a 35-22 lead after the first quarter on 65% shooting and the Wizards were never able to claw back within single digits.

The Heat would coast to victory with the Wizards never getting the lead lower than 11, 106-95 (the final score).

Let’s overreact after one preseason game, shall we?

Tomas Satoransky looks like the real deal: The rookie played the most minutes of any Wizard tonight, 31, and was also the most impressive Wizard on the floor tonight. Satoransky finished the night with eight points, five rebounds, and six assists. He looked very composed, had some nice cuts to the basket for easy finishes, and was able to get to the free-throw line. He also showed that he’s more than capable of running the pick-and-roll.

Overall, a very solid debut for Satoransky.

Where’s the Defense?

Yes, it’s just the preseason, but the defense the Wizards played tonight looked very similar to last year’s. The Wizards had issues guarding the lane evidenced as they surrendered 26 points in the paint in just the first quarter. Rotations were slow, and the Heat got too many open looks making the Wizards pay as they shot 55 percent from the field and 48 percent from three-point range.

Bradley Beal looks fine:

Beal played for just 16 minutes tonight but was very effective scoring 12 points on 5-9 shooting and knocking down his only three-point attempt. There were some question marks regarding Bradley Beal’s health after he suffered a mild concussion just a week ago in training camp but that didn’t seem to bother him. Beal looked comfortable in the mid-range, from three-point range, and also in the pick-and-roll. Very good showing from the $128 Million dollar man.

The Wizards take on the 76ers in Philadelphia on Thursday night.

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.