A look at the Southeast Division teams as they head into the 2013-14 season, in predicted order of finish:
LAST SEASON: 66-16, beat San Antonio Spurs 4-3 in NBA Finals.
STARTING FIVE: G Mario Chalmers (8.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.5 apg), G Dwyane Wade (21.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.1 apg), F LeBron James (26.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 7.3 apg), F Shane Battier (6.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.0 apg), C Chris Bosh (16.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.7 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: C Greg Oden (free agent, Trail Blazers), F Michael Beasley (free agent, Suns), G Roger Mason Jr. (free agent, Pelicans).
KEY LOSS: G-F Mike Miller (free agent, Grizzlies).
COACH: Erik Spoelstra, sixth season with Heat and overall; 260-134.
EYES ON: Wade. He was one of only four players in the NBA to average at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists last season (James, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook were the others). But knee problems in the playoffs raised questions about whether his game is declining, and Wade says one of his goals coming into this season is to silence doubters again.
OUTLOOK: James won his fourth MVP award last season and says he got better again this summer. That alone should make the Heat the undisputed favorites, even with a vastly improved Eastern Conference awaiting them. And the Heat say the looming summer-of-2014 contract decisions for James, Wade, Bosh and others won't affect anything this season, though if that changes, the quest for a third straight title will surely become more difficult.
LAST SEASON: 44-38, lost to Indiana Pacers 4-2 in first round.
STARTING FIVE: G Jeff Teague (14.6 ppg, 7.2 apg), G Kyle Korver (10.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.6 3-pointers per game), F DeMarre Carroll (4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg), F Paul Millsap (14.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.6 apg), C Al Horford (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.00 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: Millsap (free agent, Jazz), Carroll (free agent, Jazz), F Elton Brand (free agent, Mavericks), F-C Gustavo Ayon (free agent, Bucks), F James Johnson (free agent, Kings), C Pero Antic (free agent, Yugoslavia), PG Jared Cunningham (trade, Mavericks), G Royal Ivey (free agent, 76ers).
KEY LOSSES: F Josh Smith (free agent, Pistons), G Devin Harris (free agent, Mavericks), C Zaza Pachulia (free agent, Bucks), F Ivan Johnson (free agent), G DeShawn Stevenson (free agent), G Anthony Morrow (free agent, Pelicans), F Anthony Tolliver (free agent, Bobcats), C Johan Petro (free agent).
COACH: Mike Budenholzer, first season.
EYES ON: Guards Lou Williams and Dennis Schroder. Williams is returning from reconstructive surgery on his right knee in February and if healthy could be an important scoring boost. He was averaging 14.1 points through 39 games, including nine starts. Schroder is a rookie first-round pick from Germany who could be a surprise.
OUTLOOK: Horford and Teague are key returning players on a new-look roster in GM Danny Ferry's second season, his first with Budenholzer, the former longtime Spurs assistant. Millsap should help make up for loss of Smith's scoring and rebounding, but once again Horford will spend most of his minutes at center when he wishes he could play power forward. It may be difficult to match last season's sixth seed or even remain in playoff hunt.
LAST SEASON: 29-53, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G John Wall (18.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 7.6 apg), G Bradley Beal (13.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 2.4 apg), F Trevor Ariza (9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.0 apg), F Nene (12.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.9 apg), C Emeka Okafor (9.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.2 apg).
KEY ADDITIONS: F Otto Porter (draft, Georgetown), F Al Harrington (free agent, Magic), G Eric Maynor (free agent, Trail Blazers), G Glen Rice Jr. (draft, D-League).
KEY LOSS: G A.J. Price (free agent, Timberwolves).
COACH: Randy Wittman, third season with Wizards, eighth season overall; 147-291.
EYES ON: Wall. He's never been an All-Star. He's never played in a playoff game. He's been hampered by injuries. Yet the Wizards nevertheless went all-in on their 2010 No. 1 overall pick, signing him to a max deal worth about $80 million over five years. He and a pair of No. 3s — Beal and Porter — represent a future that is supposed to include a return to the playoffs this season. If not, look for changes: GM Ernie Grunfeld and Wittman are in the final years of their contracts.
OUTLOOK: Break-even would a mighty accomplishment for the Wizards, who haven't come anywhere close to the .500 mark in the last five seasons. To get there, Wall has to stay healthy and show he's worth his money.
LAST SEASON: 21-61, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Kemba Walker (17.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.7 apg), G Gerald Henderson (15.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.6 apg), F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.5 apg), F Cody Zeller (rookie), C Al Jefferson (17.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.1 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: C Jefferson (free agent, Jazz), F Anthony Tolliver (free agent, Hawks).
KEY LOSSES: C Byron Mullens (free agent, Lakers), G Reggie Williams (free agent, Rockets) F Tyrus Thomas (amnestied).
COACH: Steve Clifford, first season with Bobcats, first season as head coach in NBA.
EYES ON: Jefferson. He gives the Bobcats a proven low-post scorer theyve not had before and has the potential to make them somewhat competitive. Should draw some double-teams, which would free up shooters such as Henderson and Ben Gordon. Management is expecting a breakout season from Henderson with Jefferson on board.
OUTLOOK: The Bobcats have the worst record in the league over the last two years (28-120) but should be better this year. Not a playoff contender yet, but better. Management is hoping its young core — Walker, Henderson, Kidd-Gilchrist, Jeffrey Taylor and Bismack Biyombo — takes the next step and begins to develop. Cliffords biggest concern is the teams overall rebounding.
LAST SEASON: 20-62, missed playoffs.
STARTING FIVE: G Jameer Nelson (14.7 ppg, 7.4 apg, 3.7 rpg), G Arron Afflalo (16.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.2 apg), F Maurice Harkless (8.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 0.7 apg), F Tobias Harris (11.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.3 apg), C Nikola Vucevic (13.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 1.0 bpg).
KEY ADDITIONS: G Victor Oladipo (draft, No. 2), Harris (trade, Bucks), F-C Jason Maxiell (free agent, Pistons).
KEY LOSSES: G J.J. Redick (trade, Bucks), C Gustavo Ayon (trade, Bucks).
COACH: Jacque Vaughn, second season with Magic, second season overall; 20-62.
EYES ON: Oladipo. The Indiana University product is certainly a player that the Magic plan to rebuild around and expect to be part of their long-term plans. He showed his ability as a scorer in college, but will be called on to learn the point guard position as well. Oladipo also wont have a great deal of pressure on him this year on roster that skews young.
OUTLOOK: This is just the second season of a rebuilding effort by the Magic front office, so they arent expecting to make a playoff push this year. The focus is on developing Oladipo as well as Vucevic, Harkless and Harris. The latter three showed flashes of potential All-Star ability. The Magic also have several protected draft picks in the coming years and are hoping that potential will pacify a fan base to remain patient in the interim.
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