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Early Season Report: Southeast Division

 


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| Nov. 25, 2006

A look at each team in the Southeast division and what's to cheer about, worry about and more.

Orlando Magic (7-3)

What to cheer about:

southeast division report Team field goal percentage – 50%. The starting line-up includes Dwight Howard (59%), Grant Hill (55%), Tony Battie (51%), and Jameer Nelson (57%). Then, off the bench comes Carlos Arroyo (53%), and Darko Milicic (49%). Hedo Turkoglu is the only regular struggling from the field at 37%; but he’s hitting 40% from 3-point land. This team can flat-out shoot the rock.

Holding opponents to 94.6 points per game, and out-rebounding them at a plus-6 margin. Credit the frontline trio of Howard, Milicic and Battie. Brian Hill’s early season decisions have been laudable; like not using Grant Hill too much as a play-making point forward. The point guards are doing most of the ball-handling, while Hill roams around, coming off screens for mid-range jump shots and driving lanes, thereby limiting the damage to his fragile body. He’s not the same all star player he used to be, but he’s a long, skilled shooting guard who won’t make stupid mistakes, and can be trusted in pressure situations. He’s a winner and an invaluable veteran presence on a young team. More than anything else going on here, and make no mistake, there are some very good things going on here, give credit to Grant Hill. He looks great, and he’s playing even better.

What to worry about:

The turnovers are troubling (19.4 per game). As long as they’re winning, it won’t be considered a big deal. But, if they start losing, it’ll become apparent rather quickly that neither Nelson nor Arroyo are true point guards, and they’ll have difficulty co-existing. Orlando is eventually going to have to make a choice between the two. Travis Diener is still waiting his turn to crack the rotation. My guess is that they’re listening to offers for Arroyo and Diener as we speak.

Dwight Howard also must shoulder some of the blame for the turnovers. The Magic are determined to establish the young stud as an offensive low-post presence. Sometimes he does things there that amaze even the most experienced spectator. And some other times, he’s downright embarrassing with the ball in his hands. However, at 16 points, 14 rebounds (including two +20 efforts so far), and 2 blocks a game, the Magic will gladly write off his occasional low post blunders as learning experiences.

It’s early yet, but so far, Keith Bogans has not been an upgrade over DeShawn Stevenson.

Injury update – Nothing to report

Outlook – They’re winning and everyone’s healthy. Late November, early December brings a west coast trip. We’ll see how they look after that.

Atlanta Hawks (4-4)

What to cheer about:

They’re not in last place – a position they’ve gotten used to.

southeast division report Joe Johnson – 42 minutes, 28 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, shooting 47% from the field and 40% from deep. He’s one of the 10 best players in the league, and a true leader for this young Hawks team.

Tyronn Lue – Speedy Claxton missed a lot of pre-season work because of injuries; and he’s still dealing with a sore knee. Lue has been fabulous in his stead.

With Marvin Williams out for a couple months with a broken hand; Lue, Zaza Pachulia, and normally reluctant shooter Josh Childress have picked up the scoring slack nicely.

What to worry about:

Injuries and exhaustion – The fast start is an extremely good sign. But, this team is very young, and it’s a long season. Joe Johnson had a very busy off-season playing for team USA, and there is immense pressure on him to carry this team. If he can hold up long enough for Claxton and Williams to really contribute, they might have a chance.

Josh Smith is pressing, and shooting too many long jump shots. He needs to be using that incredible athleticism around the rim, and not settling for jump shots.

Injury update – Marvin Williams will be out another 6 weeks or so, and will be rusty when he comes back. Claxton is day-to-day on his left knee. When he is playing, he’s obviously not the same. Josh Childress will miss 3 or 4 games with a bad foot. This isn’t the deepest team, and they’re banged up.

Outlook – This is a real team. They’re very, very young and a little nicked up right now. This early success is fragile and it will be difficult to keep it going. Like Orlando, the Hawks have a west coast trip coming soon that will be a huge test. All in all though, you gotta love what’s going on here. The culture is in transition.

Washington Wizards (4-5)

What to cheer about:

southeast division report Arenas, Jamison, and Caron Butler are the highest scoring trio in the league. This is a very difficult team to defend. Antonio Daniels is playing much better this year than he did all of last year, and DeShawn Stevenson is beginning to fit in.

What to worry about:

4-1 at home, 0-4 on the road. Like last year, this team has identity issues.

Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood’s feud has been a distraction. Thomas won the starting job by out-playing Haywood in the pre-season; and he continues to outplay him so far in real games. Haywood isn’t thrilled about it, and the two have tussled, once needing to be separated by teammates. The truth is, Haywood is the problem. He’s a very big guy with a lot of natural ability. But he has no heart. He doesn’t play with any fire. Thomas knew that, and did what was necessary to take his job. He out-hustled him. If Haywood wants his job back, let him earn it. If he can’t earn it back, then he never deserved it to begin with.

Jarvis Hayes is struggling in his comeback, and they’re not getting much production from the younger guys. It’s not a big deal right now, but depth will become more important as the season wears on.

Injury update – Nothing to report

Outlook – All offense, not much defense, good at home, bad on the road – sounds a lot like a first round exit…..again……..if they make the playoffs at all.

Miami Heat (4-5)

What to cheer about:

Not much. 4-5 is pretty good considering how bad they’re looking so far. Dwayne Wade is awesome and Udonis Haslem is playing at a different level this year. Dorell Wright has taken his rightful place in the rotation. The youngster is a very good athlete, and plays with a lot of energy.

What to worry about:

They’re not shooting very well, they’re getting out-rebounded, out-run, out-hustled, out….well……everything. Shaq is out for up to two months because of knee surgery, Jason Williams is just starting to play after his off-season knee surgery, and Gary Payton is already worn out covering for him. It’s going to be a long season.

Injury update – Shaq’s surgery repaired damaged cartilage in his left knee. He might be back before February, but he’ll be out of shape. The Heat, of course, are hoping he’ll be ready come playoff time. In the meantime, they’ll ride Alonzo Mourning’s fragile physical condition. Youngsters Earl Barron and Wayne Simien had good off-seasons, and seemed ready to contribute. Riley might need to consider giving them some opportunities to help Zo hold down the fort until Shaq comes back. The two will undoubtedly be a little mistake-prone, but they’ll provide some needed energy on the floor, which anyone who has watched the Heat so far realizes, energy infusion wouldn’t be a bad thing here.

Outlook: If Shaq is back in shape come March, the Heat will be tough to beat down the stretch. But, if they’re not careful, they could be too far out of it by then. Luckily for them, the Eastern Conference isn’t loaded with dominant teams.

Charlotte Bobcats (2-7)

What to cheer about:

Emeka Okafor – 20 points, 12 boards, 1.7 blocks in 38 minutes a game. He’s back, and he looks great. Their two wins? A win at home against LeBron’s Cavs, and most shockingly, a win in overtime in San Antonio. This team is going to start winning games more consistently, mark my word. It’s going to happen one of these days. You just don’t go into San Antonio and beat the Spurs in overtime. Nobody does that!

What to worry about:

Their perimeter players (Adam Morrison, Gerald Wallace, Ray Felton, Bernard Robinson, Matt Carroll, and Alan Anderson) are shooting a combined .367 from the field, and .321 from 3-point range. This team struggles to score. They hustle, they bang, they defend; but they seem to have the hardest time putting the round, bouncy thing into the round metal thing with the netting hanging from it. What else can you say? You can’t win if you don’t score.

Injury update – Primoz Brezec is not in game shape, and Wallace and Knight are banged up already. Wallace, in particular, has been on the DL so many times in his career that he’s playing tentatively to avoid further injury, settling for jump shots, and he’s not a good shooter. He’s an extremely important player in the Bobcats’ scheme, but they’d be better off if he passes on shooting and just concentrates on playing defense and running the floor.

Outlook – Morrison has, not surprisingly, been inconsistent as a scorer. Some nights he looks like the rookie-of-the-year in waiting that the Cats’ hoped he’d be, and other nights he looks just awful. But, since they lack a go-to guy, they have no other choice but to keep feeding him the ball. There is a lot of talent on this team, but putting it all together takes time. There is beginning to be rumblings about whether or not Bickerstaff is the right man for the job. He’s been instrumental in helping to build this team, but it’s time to start winning. His seat is getting warm.



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