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Southeast preview: Feelin' the Heat
The contestants in this grouping feature one anointed team, one trying to recapture the rapture, one team desperately treading water and two ball clubs hoping for resurrection.
What’s new in Atlanta?
Besides Larry Drew, nothing much.
Mike Bibby is still a perimeter point guard who rarely carries the ball to the rim and needs a road map to find his way to the free-throw line.
Jamal Crawford’s quick trigger still keeps both teams in the game.
Al Horford remains a jump-shooting natural power forward playing out of position at center.
Josh Smith will continue to play just well enough to break the hearts of devoted Hawks fans when he does one of his disappearing acts.
Joe Johnson is so used to playing with the ball in his hands and his eye on the rim that Drew has to totally retool Iso Joe’s game.
Marvin Williams has the same nagging questions about his health and his consistency.
The Hawks have been talking about their incredible potential for lo these many seasons, but the team will be fortunate to survive the first round of the playoffs. Been there, will be there again.
Poor D.J. Augustin. Larry Brown has always believed that he was the quintessential point guard in his playing days — none of his peers were smarter — so he routinely attempts to fashion his point-guard-of-the-moment into a clone of himself. That means Augustin will be subjected to constant reminders, shrill corrections and nagging assessments. The sanity of both these men will be sorely tested.
Elsewhere in the lineup, Gerald Wallace is a terrific runner, driver and defender with an unreliable jumper.
Boris Diaw is a superb utility player.
Tyrus Thomas is still incredibly talented and incredibly undisciplined.
Stephen Jackson is a poor defender and an explosive shot-maker who can shoot the Bobcats in or out of any given game.
In sum, huge questions marks in the middle and at the point, plus problematic scoring, will force Brown to consume his weight in aspirin tablets.
The media mosh has descended, and LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh are a three-headed Lady Gaga.
Interior defense, center play, depth, harmony ... these are the most vulnerable areas for the Heat.
Still, there’s enough star power to have an extremely productive season.
Only the Celtics can keep Miami out of the Finals.
There’s a rumor coming out of Disneyland that Dwight Howard now has a short-range jump shot. If so, he’ll be more of a go-to scorer. But making accurate passes out of tricky double teams remains a problem. Plus, his over-eagerness to block shots frequently has him out of position in help-defense situations. But, man oh man, can he rebound!
However, Jameer Nelson hasn’t gotten any quicker or more proficient on defense.
Vince Carter has wasted still another offseason without getting a heart transplant.
Brandon Bass, however, will get a chance to play regularly at the power forward slot, and his fearless skills and accurate mid-range springers will have a positive effect.
Mickael Pietrus is a pesky defender who takes too many ill-advised shots.
J.J. Redick gets better with each passing season. He’s a dead-eye shooter and an excellent positional defender.
Quentin Richardson has to be more consistent.
And Rashard Lewis can’t go AWOL as much as he has in the past.
The Magic have one of the deepest rosters in the league, but except for Pietrus, they have no one-on-one defensive stopper.
As good as this team is — and they are very good — they don’t have enough stuff to beat out either Boston or Miami, so a return to the Finals is only wishful thinking.
Gilbert Arenas is the key player for the Wizards. Too bad he’s plagued by injuries and incredibly poor decisions. No matter how much he parrots the company line, he’ll have difficulty playing second fiddle to John Wall.
In truth, the only way that Wall can develop into the leader that the team so desperately needs would be to trade Arenas. Even so, Wall is very good and will have every opportunity to be great.
Yi Jianlian is heavier but still too much of a lightweight presence at both ends of the game to make a discernible difference.
Nick Young is a terrific one-on-one scorer who absolutely needs the ball to be effective. But so does Arenas!
Kirk Hinrich is tough as leather and a surprisingly good defender.
Josh Howard has to get healthy, stay healthy and demonstrate that he can deliver in clutch situations.
Agent Zero has too much of a wacky presence for the Wiz to develop into a playoff team. However, the franchise does lead the league in one category: Their seven assistant coaches give them the most suits on the bench.
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