The road to the 2013 NBA Finals got a little easier for defending champion Miami.
Dwight Howard left Orlando and headed for Hollywood and Joe Johnson left Atlanta for Brooklyn. The defections gutted the Southeast Division, leaving the Heat without a legitimate sparring partner in the division. Unless Josh Smith turns into Dominique Wilkins overnight and John Wall develops a Gilbert Arenas-like jump shot, the Heat should finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference based on the simple fact that it has little competition within the division. And last time we checked, LeBron James still wears the Heat colors and he’ll have a healthier Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and a new sniper in Ray Allen to help him defend the NBA title.
Team president Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra went into the offseason with a mindset of upgrading the roster, something the Heat didn’t do the season after they won the championship in 2006. Allen provides the Heat with another spot-up shooter — arguably the greatest 3-point shooter in history — to open up the floor for Wade and LeBron. Spoelstra has also asked Chris Bosh to slide over to the center position full-time, freeing up LeBron to play power forward. About the only major question mark for the Heat heading into the season is Wade’s surgically repaired knee. If all the reports are accurate, Wade should be back to being D-Wade for 2012-13.
OneManFastbreak.net predicts the order of finish in the Southeast Division:
1-MIAMI HEAT — LeBron finally rid of that humongous monkey off his back when he got that elusive championship ring in 2012. James should get a big bump off his championship season, and this is bad news for the division and rest of the league. But the Heat are much more than just the Big Three. What makes Miami so difficult to beat is balance. The Heat have players (Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem) who know their roles and make “championship” plays each and every night. Chalmers is not afraid to take and make big shots down the stretch. Battier and Haslem are committed to doing all the dirty work: playing defense, taking charges, diving for loose balls. Those are all the type of things that don’t show up on the box score.
2-ATLANTA HAWKS — You don’t lose a Joe Johnson and consider yourself a championship team. This is the dilemma the Hawks are facing this year. But the Hawks can point to the addition-by-subtraction theory, and the feeling is the ball should move better without Johnson, who can be a ball-stopper. Former 76ers guard Lou Williams may not have Johnson’s All-Star credentials, but he’s an explosive scorer who plays better when the game is on the line.
3-ORLANDO MAGIC — No D. Howard, no Stan Van Gundy, no expectations. The Magic are starting over and it begins at the top with the hiring of Jacque Vaughn as head coach. During his NBA career, Vaughn was remembered for being a smart player on offense and tough on defense. Expect the Magic to be those things, but it will take time to recover from the mess left by all the Dwight drama.
4-WASHINGTON WIZARDS — The Wizards ditched their youth movement and brought in more experienced players. The team felt there was too much knuckleheadedness and not enough professionalism. But what the Wizards don’t realize is sometimes experience doesn’t make up for youth and talent.
5-CHARLOTTE BOBCATS — Coming off one of the worst seasons in NBA history, there is nowhere to go but up for the Bobcats. Starting with the choice of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the draft and naming last year’s top pick Kemba Walker as the starter at point guard, the Bobcats are putting the franchise on the shoulders of two college basketball winners and hoping their championship pedigree rubs off on the entire team.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.