By Ian Thomsen
December 17, 2011
2011-12 NBA Preview: Southeast Division
How They'll Finish
Miami Heat
2010-11 Record: 58-24; lost to Mavericks in NBA Finals
Top Addition: Shane Battier | Biggest Loss: Mike Bibby
This looks like the Heat's year, based on their development throughout last season and the addition of Battier, who has made a career of enhancing chemistry wherever he has played. Expect the drama of 2010-11 to be reduced substantially as the talent continues to blend constructively. As long as Miami is healthy, it will be an upset if this team fails to return to the NBA Finals.
Orlando Magic
2010-11 Record: 52-30; lost to Hawks in first round
Top Addition: Glen Davis | Biggest Loss: Brandon Bass
This team's identity is in doubt amid speculation of Dwight Howard's departure, whether as a free agent next summer or to one of the three teams on his list of potential trade partners during the season. Howard hadn't ruled out a return to the Magic during camp, giving hope that their defense and a full season with Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu on the wings can restore them to contention.
Atlanta Hawks
2010-11 Record: 44-38; lost to Bulls in conference semifinals
Top Addition: Tracy McGrady | Biggest Loss: Jamal Crawford
Atlanta would have all the makings of an excellent second-tier contender with All-Star talent at several positions and no contributor who is on the wrong side of his peak years. But last year the Hawks lapsed to a disappointing 48 wins, raising doubts about their ability to overcome their underdog status against the best of the best. Expect another respectable regular season from this team nonetheless.
Washington Wizards
2010-11 Record: 23-59
Top Addition: Jan Vesely | Biggest Loss: Josh Howard
The Wizards are rebuilding in a promising way around second-year point guard John Wall and rookie big man Vesely, who will need time to adjust. Former All-Star forward Rashard Lewis can provide interim help as this team grows patiently through the draft while maintaining cap space for next summer and beyond.
Charlotte Bobcats
2010-11 Record: 34-48
Top Addition: Kemba Walker | Biggest Loss: Stephen Jackson
By next summer the Bobcats will have escaped most of their bad contracts and can begin to rebuild. In the meantime, this promises to be a harsh year for a team that lacks scoring, as well as size. The best hope here is for an assertive rookie season from point guard Walker and a long-awaited breakout year by power forward Tyrus Thomas.
Players To Watch
LeBron James
2010-11 Season Stats: 26.7 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.0 APG
Career Stats: 27.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 7.1 APG
Is last year's villain going to be this year's star? James has been saying all of the right things, which is a comforting switch from last season, but what the Heat really need is for him to follow the example of other championship leaders and play more often from the post, as a passer who draws double teams, as well as a scorer who stabilizes his team with layups and free throws.
Dwight Howard
2010-11 Stats: 22.9 PPG, 14.1 RPG, 2.4 BPG
Career Stats: 18.2 PPG, 12.9 RPG, 2.2 BPG
The attention he craves will be his: Howard will be scrutinized for signs of whether he is helping or hurting the Magic during this uncertain time. Is he a leader, and has he continued to improve his offensive skills? The results will speak for him.
John Wall
2010-11 Stats: 16.4 PPG, 8.3 APG, 4.6 RPG
Career Stats: 16.4 PPG, 8.3 APG, 4.6 RPG
His rookie season was impressive, but Year 2 will bring greater expectations for Wall to show stardom and leadership of his young team. He must cut down on the turnovers, improve his shooting and create an identity for the Wizards around his style of play. That's not asking too much, is it?
Burning Questions
Will Dwight Howard remain with the Magic? With him, Orlando remains a second-tier contender in the East. Without him, the team must create a new identity. Every day of the shortened preseason generated a new rumor about Howardís staying or going. If he isnít moved, will every win or loss turn into a referendum on his future?
Will the Heat build on last season? Miami was seven minutes and 15 seconds short of running away with Game 2 of the NBA Finals and likely winning the 2011 championship. It will be a huge surprise if James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh aren't able to convert the experiences of their first year together into a more formidable run at the title this season.
What is the future in Atlanta? The Hawks were on the verge of being sold to Alex Meruelo before the deal fell through. This should be their best year, based on the peaking ages of their best players, but the interim state of ownership creates the impression of a franchise that is waiting to be handed off. The Hawks need leadership and direction from the top.
By The Numbers
48.4 The percentage of Orlando's blocked shots generated last season by Howard, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year who was largely responsible for ranking the Magic No. 4 in defensive field-goal percentage (43.6) and points (93.7).
31.2 Points per game accumulated last season by Miami Heat players not named LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh.
86.4 Points per game accumulated last season by current members of the Bobcats, including Corey Maggette.
Bold Prediction
The Magic will hold out dealing Howard until the trade deadline, but don't expect a complete overhaul of their roster.
Southeast Video Preview
Magic 2011-12 season preview
Source: SI's Chris Mannix says that while Magic center Dwight Howard may start the season in Orlando, he won't finish it there, despite the team's best efforts to keep him.

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