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Southeast Division preview: Can Wizards break division title drought?

Southeast Division preview: Can Wizards break division title drought?


2015-16 record: 48-34
Key additions: C Dwight Howard, SG DeAndre Bembry (1st rd. pick), PF Taureen Prince (1st rd. pick)
Key subtractions: C/PF Al Horford, PG Jeff Teague
Head coach: Mike Budenholzer
Starters: PG Dennis Schroder, SG Kent Bazemore, SF Kyle Korver, PF Paul Millsap, C Dwight Howard

Biggest question: Can Hawks keep winning without Horford and Teague?

After making the playoffs for nine straight seasons, the Atlanta Hawks underwent some significant changes this offseason when longtime star Horford left for the Boston Celtics via free agency and Teague went to the Pacers in a trade. In comes Howard, who is only 30 but has been slowed by injuries in recent years. Last season Howard averaged 13.7 points per game, which was his lowest output since 2004-05, his rookie year. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year did, though, grab 11.8 rebounds and block 1.6 shots per game.

Losing Teague, an All-Star point guard, and Horford, who could stretch the floor with an outside shot, should change the Hawks' offense more than anything. But defense was already their calling card and it will be interesting to see how Howard fits in. Last season the Hawks were exceptional on that end of the floor with the second-best defensive rating in basketball. In theory, he could make them even more formidable down low and that could pay off long-term if they match up with the Cleveland Cavaliers again in the playoffs. Last spring they were swept by the Cavs in the second round.

Also worth watching are the two first round picks Atlanta added, Bembry and Prince. The Hawks were the only team in the Southeast that kept their first round pick and they ended up securing another, with Prince coming over in a trade with the Utah Jazz.


2015-16 record: 48-34
Head coach: Erik Spoelstra
Key additions: SG Dion Waiters, PF Derrick Williams, SG Wayne Ellington, SF James Johnson
Key subtractions: SG Dwyane Wade, PF Chris Bosh, SG Joe Johnson, SF Luol Deng
Starters: PG Goran Dragic, SG Dion Waiters, SF Justise Winslow, PF Derrick Williams, C Hassan Whiteside

Biggest question: What will life be like after Wade?

The Miami Heat have won five of the last six Southeast Division titles, but this year will begin a new era with superstar Wade now playing in his hometown of Chicago. It is now the Dragic and Whiteside show with Winslow on the rise and former top 10 picks Waiters and Williams inserted into the mix.

The Heat won an impressive 48 games in 2015-16 and certainly have the tools to repeat that pace, but they will have to do it with some new personnel. Both Wade and Deng logged a lot of minutes for them last year. Bosh is also out of the picture. Winslow, who scored 6.4 points per game as a rookie, could change their outlook dramatically if he starts tapping into his potential. He may be their best hope to improve on offense where they scored an even 100 points per game last season, 23rd in the NBA.

[RELATED: Wizards ready to unleash John Wall]


2015-16 record: 48-34
Head coach: Steve Clifford
Key additions: PG Ramon Sessions, C Roy Hibbert
Key subtractions: PG Jeremy Lin, C Al Jefferson, SG Courtney Lee
Starters: PG Kemba Walker, SG Nicolas Batum, SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, PF Marvin Williams, C Cody Zeller

Biggest question: Can they repeat last year?

The Hornets made a massive leap in 2015-16 to improve their record by 15 games from the year before. That earned them the sixth seed in the playoffs, where they fell in the first round. Charlotte enters this season hoping to be better than they were a year ago, just like every other team. But simply repeating their success from last season could be tough. They were smart to re-sign Nic Batum, but saw three rotation regulars - Lin, Jefferson and Lee - leave this offseason. That should pave the way for young guys like Zeller, Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb to take on larger roles.

It should also help to have Kidd-Gilchrist back. The former second overall pick tore the labrum in his right shoulder twice last season and appeared in just seven total games. Charlotte was an above average defensive team last year and should be even better in 2016-17 with MKG roaming the court. 


2015-16 record: 35-47
Head coach: Frank Vogel
Key additions: C/PF Serge Ibaka, C Bismack Biyombo, SF Jeff Green
Key subtractions: PG Victor Oladipo, PG Brandon Jennings, PF Andrew Nicholson
Starters: PG Elfrid Payton, SG Evan Fournier, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Serge Ibaka, C Nikola Vucevic

Biggest question: They should be able to defend, but can they score?

The Magic have collected lottery picks for years now and because of that are an intriguing team with tons of young talent. And this offseason they added two key veterans in Ibaka and Biyombo, a pair of shot-blockers that should take Orlando to new heights defensively. They also hired Vogel as their new head coach after he led the Pacers to the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.

Do the Magic now have enough to make the postseason for the first time since 2011-12? It could come down to their offense because their defense should be solid. Last year they were 18th in points per game (102.1) and 21st in offensive rating (105.1). Then, this offseason, they traded Oladipo, who scored 16 per game, second-most on the team. They return leading scorer Vucevic, but in order to put up more points they will need guys like Payton, Fournier and Gordon to take another leap in their development. 


2015-16 record: 41-41
Head coach: Scott Brooks
Key additions: C Ian Mahinmi, PG Trey Burke, PG Tomas Satoransky, PF Andrew Nicholson
Key subtractions: SF Jared Dudley, PF Nene, PG Ramon Sessions, SG Garrett Temple
Starters: PG John Wall, SG Bradley Beal, SF Otto Porter, PF Markieff Morris, C Marcin Gortat

Biggest question: Can they return to the playoffs?

The Wizards' 2015-16 season was bad enough that it cost head coach Randy Wittman his job, yet they still finished .500 with 41 wins. The standards for this franchise are simply a lot higher than they were just four years ago. In comes Brooks, the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year, who hopes to lead the Wizards back to the playoffs.

Brooks needs to find a way to fix the Wizards' defense, which was a strength during their back-to-back playoff seasons from 2013-15. Last season they were 21st in the NBA with 104.6 points allowed per game after finishing top 10 in the category in the two previous years. Opponents shot just .433 against the Wizards in 2014-15 before shooting .462 last year. Mahinmi, a potent rim protector, was signed to help out on defense, but he will begin the season recovering from knee surgery.

The Southeast Division could be wide open this season. The Heat won it last year at 48-34, the same record as the Hawks and Hornets. The Wizards won 46 games just two years ago. The Wizards, however, have not won a division title since 1978-79. At 37 seasons, that's the longest drought in the NBA.

[RELATED: Brooks learning Wizards roster an ongoing process]

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5


Wizards Tipoff podcast: How they can keep it rolling in Game 5

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes, Travis Thomas and Julie Donaldson reset the series and looked ahead to Game 5.

They were joined by TSN Sports anchor Kayla Grey to find out the Toronto perspective. The Wizards have all the momentum in this series, now they just have to keep it going.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

Even after injury-riddled year, Wizards are seeing peak John Wall in playoffs

You would not have known it by John Wall's towering poster-dunks over Jonas Valanciunas and Jakob Poeltl in Game 4, or his fourth quarter takeover after Bradley Beal fouled out, but Wall is still technically working his way into midseason form from the left knee surgery that kept him out more than two months down the stretch of the regular season. Add into the equation that he sprained his right ankle in Game 3, then resprained it in Game 4 right after Beal went out, and it's quite clear that what he is doing is simply not normal. 

Throughout Wall's recovery, his head coach Scott Brooks remarked how Wall can regain his form unusually quick following an injury absence. Game 4 was just his eighth game back, yet through four playoff games he is averaging an absurd 26.8 points, 13.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 1.0 blocks.

If that's what he's doing eight games removed from recovery, and against the top team in the Eastern Conference, what does peak playoff form look like? 

"I told y'all, I told all the media that I only need like three or four games. I really didn't need too many games," he said. "All the hard work that I did in those two months was to prepare myself to be ready for the playoffs."

Wall said he started feeling like himself in his final regular season game, his fourth outing following the injury rehab. It was against the Celtics and he scored 29 points to go along with 12 assists, seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals.

"I just started to see shots fall down that I was falling short with a couple games before that," Wall said of that night.

Brooks saw a change in Wall against the Cavaliers on April 5, in just his third game back. That game Wall put up 28 points, 14 assists, four rebounds and three steals. Most importantly, he logged 38 minutes.

"I knew I was going to challenge his body with extra minutes," Brooks said. "The way he responded to that, I knew he was back."

Whenever the turning point happened, there is no looking back. Wall has found his groove to not only impact, but at times dominate playoff games against one of the best defensive teams in basketball.

In Game 4 once Beal went down, Wall looked like the best player on the court. He scored eight of the Wizards' final 14 points to seal the victory and did so on a bum ankle. He outshined both DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, two All-Star guards.

Wall even played sound defense on DeRozan in big moments. DeRozan shot 10-for-29 in the game.

"I think I did a good job of contesting him," Wall said. "Just do whatever it takes to help this team win."

What Brooks predicted would happen has indeed played out. He has been with Wall for about two years now and knows what the star point guard is made of.

"I've been with him two years, he loves to play," Brooks said, noting there have been some tough conversations to convince him to come out of games.

Consider this: Wall has scored 20 points or more in six straight games, his longest streak of the 2017-18 season. He has actually reached 23 points or more in those six games, which is tied for the longest such streak of his entire career.

Through eight games overall and four games in the playoffs, Wall has reminded everyone of what the Wizards missed. Yes, they went 10-3 when he first went down with the injury in late January, but that was not sustainable.

They need Wall to reach their full potential as a team and especially in the postseason. Late-game situations like in Game 4, when Beal exited and it was tied with 4:58 to play, are when the superstars separate themselves.

Wall did that and now the Wizards are in good shape with the series at 2-2 and having won two straight.

"Blame everything on him," Brooks joked of the Wizards' up-and-down regular season. "If he wasn't hurt, we'd be better, right?"

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