Here's how I see the Southeast Division shaking out:
1. Orlando Magic
Dwight Howard really broke through last year and Rashard Lewis' first year in Orlando was pretty good too. I see Jameer Nelson becoming more of a leader this year, and with Miami not quite where it was two or three years ago, the Magic will win the division again.
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- Southwest Division | Spurs
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- East: Central | Atlantic | Southeast
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The Eastern Conference is getting stronger and the Hawks' 37 wins last year won't get them into the playoffs this year. The only big loss they suffered was Josh Childress, but they re-signed Josh Smith. In my opinion, Smith is worth every stinkin' penny Atlanta paid for him. He has developed a lot, and the Hawks will get better, but their record should be about the same.
The Hawks made strides last year, and they're close to becoming a good team. Similar to the Rays in baseball, this is a built team. Almost all of the players were lottery picks, and now it's finally starting to pay off. If Mike Bibby and Smith both have big years, and guys like Marvin Williams and Al Horford can continue to improve, the Hawks should get 37 wins a respectable number in a conference that will demand about 40 wins to get a playoff spot.
4. Washington Wizards
With Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas both scheduled to miss time, the Wizards will miss the playoffs this season. They'll have to rely heavily on Caron Butler, who is often injured as well, with reserves like Etan Thomas and DeShawn Stevenson also getting a larger work load. Brendan Haywood will also miss a good chunk of the season. A healthy Washington team could probably win 50 games, but when was the last time that Arenas, Jamison and Butler played a full season together?
The Wizards inked Jamison and Arenas to lucrative new contracts, and hopefully they can return to where they were after they heal up. Arenas is all talk, and I don't think he's backed any of it up. First-round exit after first-round exit doesn't give you the right to talk smack. However, when he returns (perhaps in December), he'll help his team, but they'll probably already be in the hole. Sorry Gil, but the Wizards will miss the playoffs.
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte has been making baby steps every year, and now that Larry Brown is the coach, the pieces are in place. Emeka Okafor just got signed for six more years, and hopefully he has a good year. Okafor has been up and down every year since his rookie season. Jason Richardson may be due for a big year, along with Gerald Wallace.
This division is tough, and to think that Charlotte will play the bulk of its games against Orlando, Miami, Washington and Atlanta makes me awfully skeptical of the Bobcats' chance to make the playoffs, let alone win 35 games. You never know what Larry Brown will give a team as the head coach. It could be the same result as his successful stint in Detroit or it could be the same as his disaster in New York.
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