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Last week in this spot, we began our NBA preview series by telling you to ride Toronto over Boston in the Atlantic. The Westgate LV Superbook released their projected win totals for all 30 teams and undoubtedly labeled the Southeast as both the weakest and most competitive division.

The team that was projected to win the most games was Atlanta (43.5), while Orlando and Miami were each expected to bring up the rear (36.5). As you can see, that’s not much difference, nor much respect. We’ll take a look at what should be a pretty fun division, but see a clear favorite in D.C. Here’s a look at how the teams stack up, listed in their projected order of finish.

Wash. Wizards (42.5)

The Wizards (42.5 projected wins): While Kevin Durant didn’t return home like LeBron James did, that doesn’t mean Scott Brooks’ first season in D.C. won’t be successful. He’s definitely an upgrade from the fired Randy Wittman and benefited from smart offseason moves that brought center Ian Mahinmi, forwards Jason Smith and Andrew Nicholson, and point guard Trey Burke on board to fortify the bench. How that second unit gels alongside wing Kelly Oubre will be telling, but if the starting five stays healthy, they’ll do the heavy lifting.

The combination of Otto Porter, Markieff Morris, Marcin Gortat, John Wall and Bradley Beal is the most complete and talented in the Southeast, so the call here is to expect this franchise’s first division title since capturing the Atlantic in 1978-79. Porter and Morris both should blossom, potentially making this a runaway. Ride the over and cash in on 2-to-1 odds on these Wizards to win the Southeast. I do request the asterisk that Wall and Beal stay healthy, but love this play.

Atlanta Hawks (43.5)

Despite a win total projected to be much lower than the 54 they’ve averaged in the first two seasons under Mike Budenholzer, the Hawks are still favored to win their division as one of only two teams expected to finish above .500. Al Horford and Jeff Teague are gone, so this will be Paul Millsap’s team and Dennis Schroder will get the keys to run the team full-time. Yes, Dwight Howard is on board, but Millsap has to be the stable presence since consistency is going to be the key to Atlanta’s success. That hasn’t been Schroder’s forte thus far and lately, definitely hasn’t been Howard’s.

Millsap brings effort and intensity on both ends, night after night. Schroder’s continued maturation and having veterans Jarrett Jack and Wil Bynum, both Georgia Tech products, as safety nets, should lead to dynamic play at the point. As far as Howard goes, odds are that this will be his best season back in his hometown before he inevitably wears out his welcome by rubbing teammates the wrong way. He’ll be motivated in his return to an Eastern Conference that he was once a top-five player in and is still just 30 years old. Rookie DeAndre Bembry will be an asset too, helping the Hawks reach the playoffs. They’ve got 9-to-5 odds to win the division and have a shot at it if Washington suffers through another injury-filled season.

Charlotte Hornets (39.5)

The Hornets won 48 games last season, their highest win total since the pre-Bobcats dates when they won 49 in 1999-2000. For historical perspective, Baron Davis was a rookie on that team while Eddie Jones and Derrick Coleman led them in scoring. It’s puzzling that their number has been set nearly 10 wins lower than the amount they were able to notch last season since losing Lin, Al Jefferson and Courtney Lee to free agency shouldn’t be crippling.

While all were smart, dependable veteran pros, their production is replaceable if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can stay healthy and young pieces like Frank Kaminsky, Cody Zeller and Jeremy Lamb keep stepping up. Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum could both be All-Stars, but these Hornets look like a .500 team, likely running third in the division. I’d take a shot a 40 wins if you forced me to, but would otherwise stay away here since they have the look of a team that will hover around .500. Those +400 odds to win the Southeast aren’t enticing.

Orlando Magic (36.5)

The Magic had a disappointing offseason, falling short in their quest to land a big-name free agent and settling for shaking things up by adding a badly-needed rim protector in Serge Ibaka, giving up on former No. 2 pick Oladipo in a highly scrutinized trade. Orlando doubled down on its desire to upgrade its defense around the basket by adding Bismack Biyombo, who enjoyed a breakthrough postseason for Toronto. You can understand the philosophy since 7-footer Nik Vucevic isn’t much of a defender and now has considerable help alongside him, but trading Oladipo leaves suspect shooter Elfrid Payton, streaky Evan Fournier and young Mario Hezonja as the catalysts at guard.

Frank Vogel is the team’s best coach since Van Gundy was let go, but his first season won’t yield immediate prosperity. After going 35-47 under Scott Skiles, they’ll probably win a few more games under Vogel, but I wouldn’t expect them to challenge for a division title.

Miami Heat (36.5)

The Heat won’t clear Chris Bosh due to his scary blood clot issue, which has led to a nasty divorce since he believes clearing cap space is at the heart of their caution. With Bosh’s days in South Florida over and Dwyane Wade also moving on, there’s little reason to expect that Miami won’t tank, bringing up the rear in the Southeast in what appears to be a rebuilding season where cap relief and the development of key young players will take precedence.

Even though Josh Richardson will miss the early part of the season after tearing his MCL, he’ll play a large role alongside Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Tyler Johnson. Expect Miami to then use its cap space to chase big-name free agents in the offseason, likely coming off a 50-loss season. I’d ride the under on them.


About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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