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2006-07 NBA Southeast Division Preview

By Drew Mangione of Doc's Sports Picks

Here resides the NBA Champions, virtually unchanged and still quite talented. But the Southeast is by no means a one-horse division. A team four hours north on the Ronald Reagan Turnpike has a brash young star that talks a big game and may just be able to back it up. The next player to vie for the unofficial "Best Player in the League" title will be Dwight Howard.

Of course, the last two players to catch that distinction are also still young. And one, Dwayne Wade, resides in this division. Age is both a blessing and the Achilles' heel of the defending champion Miami Heat. It's a blessing in the sense that Wade will be 25 while entering his fourth year, the point at which most players begin their prime. It's a weakness because Udonis Haslem is the only other big-minute player not pushing 30 and 10-year veterans may fill five roster slots.

The rest of the division is intriguing, but likely not playoff bound. How long can the Jordan who got Washington to the playoffs - Eddie -- keep this team in the top eight? The Bobcats are developing and could be just a year or two away from shedding their babysitter coach for one who can bring them to the playoffs. The Hawks are going to be competitive, but still lose a lot of games. They'll be next year's surprise.

Here's a breakdown of each team in the division:

MIAMI HEAT
2005 Record: 52-30 (1st Division, 2nd Conference, NBA Champions)
2006 Title odds: 6/1
2006 Wins O/U: 51.5
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: none
Key Losses: Derek Anderson, SG
Outlook: The team made no moves to get better, except of course keep Pat Riley and therefore Shaq, re-sign Dwayne Wade, and bring back the various artifacts that make up one of the best benches in the league. I don't care how old these guys seem, Wade will be better still and that alone deserves our attention. Don't be surprised if Wade drops 30 a night.
Bottom line: This team could very well win a second consecutive championship, but while a division crown and 52 wins are a lock, the win total may be tight considering Shaq will find the injuries he needs to justify resting 20 games.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS
2005 Record: 42-40 (2nd Division, 5th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 37/1
2006 Wins O/U: 39
2006 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: DeShawn Stevenson, SG; Darius Songaila, F
Key Losses: Jared Jeffries, SF
Outlook: Eddie Jordan has done a good job with this team, but the front office seems to be resting on its free agent acquisitions of a few years ago and now its time to operate like the Clippers of old. It's not that Jared Jeffries was that good, but if you let B talent go and replace it with C talent, can you really expect to win more games?
Bottom line: The Wizards will battle with the Celtics for the eight seed and the unfortunate status of being the lone playoff team with a sub .500 record.

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ORLANDO MAGIC
2005 Record: 36-46 (3rd Division, 10th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 150/1
2006 Wins O/U: 37
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: J.J. Reddick (r), SG; Keith Bogans, SG
Key Losses: DeShawn Stevenson, SG
Outlook: Dwight Howard is a beast and Grant Hill is not essential to earning a playoff spot. Those are two good signs. This is a team built to accentuate a superstar and the big fella should be there this year. Jameer Nelson has emerged as a legitimate floor general and J.J. Reddick, if healthy, may be the best pick of the '06 draft in terms of filling a need. Hedo Turkoglu of Turkey may have found his niche and fellow foreigner Darko Milicic has found his best opportunity to succeed.
Bottom line: If Hill is healthy and putting up solid numbers, the six seed is the limit, but without him, the seven and a .500 record is in the team's grasp. Howard's talk of a championship is a bit much.

CHARLOTTE BOBCATS
2005 Record: 26-56 (4th Division, 13th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 500/1
2006 Wins O/U: 32
2006 Wins Projection: Under
Key Additions: Adam Morrison (r), SF; Othella Harrington, PF
Key Losses: Jumaine Jones, SF
Outlook: I like the size in the starting lineup and the addition of Morrison should provide some much needed scoring, but this team played over their heads last year and still only won 26 games. I may have picked the wrong time to stop sniffing glue, but these owners picked the wrong time to start a franchise. They've done well with their first three picks, but it's not like they had the '03 draft to work with.
Bottom line: This is an under and at most a push. Morrison probably equals, at most, a five-game bump, but it's not necessarily his fault if the team takes a step backward on paper. One stud lottery pick or big free agent signing, then we'll talk playoffs.

ATLANTA HAWKS
2005 Record: 25-56 (5th Division, 14th Conference)
2006 Title odds: 700/1
2006 Wins O/U: 28
2006 Wins Projection: Over
Key Additions: Speedy Claxton, PG; Lorenzen Wright, C; Shelden Williams (r), PF
Key Losses: Al Harrington, F
Outlook: The Joe Johnson at point guard experiment appears to be over. That's a plus. Shelden Williams may not have a high ceiling, but he immediately makes this team better by providing a post presence through which Johnson and Saleem Stoudamire will find some open 3s. Marvin Williams is a 'tweener with a lot of potential and if he can set the Tar Heel/Blue Devil rivalry aside, he should improve a lot.
Bottom line: This team is far from the playoffs, but should be better by at least five games. It's addition by subtraction here. B dropping Harrington, the team is better positioned for the future with Shelden and additional minutes for Marvin.

(Odds and over under numbers courtesy of Pinnacle Sportsbook)

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