Miami’s loss last week of LeBron James, who returned to his hometown team in Cleveland quickly changed the landscape in the Southeast Division of the NBA.
Let’s put this in the most basic terms possible – The Southeast division is easier to win if the world’s best player isn’t playing for Miami.
Despite keeping two of the “Big 3,” signing Chris Bosh to a max deal, and bringing back Dwyane Wade both odds makers and NBA pundits feel that the Heat have returned to the, “mere mortals,” status they had back in 2010 before James, Wade and Bosh headed to South Beach.
Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte and yes even Orlando pulled closer to Miami and winning the Southeast Division is no longer a forgone conclusion for the Heat.
As a matter of fact both the Wizards and the Hawks are considered by both Las Vegas odds makers and many NBA pundits rate them better than Miami. Both teams are on the rise while the Heat scrambles to stay in the hunt.
Washington had an impressive run in last years playoffs bouncing Chicago out in the first round and battling Indiana to the bitter end. Meanwhile, both the Hawks and the Hornets gained much needed post season experience.
John Wall and former Gator star Bradley Beal are one of the young guard combo’s in the NBA. The Wizards bounced back from their loss of small forward Trevor Ariza over the weekend to Houston. They brought in sure- fire Hall of Fame forward and 10 time All Star, Paul Pierce on a two-year deal for the team’s midlevel salary exception , His main role is to play about 25 minutes a game while serving as a mentor to former Georgetown star Otto Porter who played his rookie season in DC last year.
Add a front line that includes a rotation of Drew Gooden, Marcin Gortat and Nene and they make it tough to be in the paint and the trio keeps the boards clean for Washington. Last season Wizards, along with the Heat were the only two teams to have a winning record within the division.
The Heat went 12-4 against the Southeast while the Wizards were 10-6 in games played against division foes. Their 22-19 road record was exactly the same as the Heat last season and in head to head battles, the two teams split regular season meetings.
Meanwhile, the young Magic and Hornets have reason to hope because they each have a cohesive plan in place to rebuild. So the rest of the Southeast has a plan in place while the Heat seems to be just adding bodies to their roster and then seeing how they fit later.
You must give credit to Heat president of basketball operations Pat Riley for working to keep his team competitive. He has added free agents Luol Deng, and brought back point guard Mario Chalmers on a two-year contract, it clear that 2016 will be Miami’s next big push into free agency.
Former Gator star Udonis Haslem, and with the additions of Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, Riley continues to move the Heat closer to remaining a contender in the Eastern Conference.
One thing for sure is this year there will be a battle to win the Southeast Division in the NBA.