NBA: Miami Heat the team to catch in Southeast Division | Inquirer Sports

NBA: Miami Heat the team to catch in Southeast Division

/ 02:13 PM October 18, 2023

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks with guard Tyler Herro (14) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in Miami.

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra talks with guard Tyler Herro (14) during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

There wasn’t much in the way of collective success in the NBA’s Southeast Division last season.

The division had one team finish with a winning record, that being Miami. It had one All-NBA player, that being Miami’s Jimmy Butler. It had one All-Star, that being Miami’s Bam Adebayo. And one team that won a playoff series, that being … yep, Miami, which went all the way to the NBA Finals as the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.


So in the Southeast, there’s the Heat. And everybody else.


Yet Miami still feels like it is doubted after an offseason where it hoped to land Damian Lillard in a trade with Portland — only to see him sent to Milwaukee instead after the Trail Blazers simply didn’t engage much with the Heat in any talks.

“We have enough motivation,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have enough, everything we need, to be one of those teams and that’s what excites all of us as competitors.”

The Southeast was the only division last season to have just one team finish over .500; Miami was 44-38. The combined winning percentage of the five Southeast teams — .441 — was second-worst in the NBA, slightly ahead of the Southwest Division’s .427 win rate. Atlantic teams combined to have a .595 winning percentage, Pacific teams were at .546, Northwest teams were at .500 and Central teams were at .490.

There were two Southeast teams in the playoffs a season ago; Atlanta beat Miami in the play-in tournament to grab the No. 7 seed, then fell to Boston in Round 1. The Heat won a play-in elimination game over Chicago to get the No. 8 seed, then ousted Milwaukee, New York and the Celtics before falling to Denver in the NBA Finals.

“A lot of our improvement and development needs to come internally,” Hawks coach Quin Snyder said. “That’s something that I think is important for us.”

The same can be said for Washington, Charlotte and Orlando as well. The Wizards are in a reboot after trading away Bradley Beal, and the Hornets and Magic are both thinking it’s possible to reach — at minimum — the play-in tournament this season, which would be a step forward for both franchises.


The Magic are hoping that bringing back much of the same team for another season will help fast-track some growth.

“These guys know exactly what they’re going to hear from our coaches, the things that we’re teaching, how we’re expected to play, what we’re demanding,” Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said. “I think they understand that a lot more now and I think that’s a huge advantage for us.”

Since the NBA went to its current division setup 19 years ago, the Heat have had only three losing seasons – by far the fewest in the Southeast. Charlotte has had 15, Orlando has had 13, Washington has had 10 and Atlanta has had eight.

A look at the Southeast Division in predicted order of finish:


The defending Eastern Conference champions have one of the game’s best all-around players in Butler, perhaps the league’s most versatile defender in Adebayo and one of the best coaches in Spoelstra. And there is elite veteran presence as well, with Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry among the team’s biggest voices.

Tyler Herro survived another summer of trade rumors and said he’s looking to take another step forward. He missed almost all of last season’s run to the finals after breaking his hand in Game 1 of Round 1 at Milwaukee.

The clear Southeast favorites, though the Heat are seeking much more than a division prize.


Paolo Banchero Magic NBA

FILE–Paolo Banchero #5 of the Orlando Magic. Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images/AFP

The Magic are super-young and rookie of the year Paolo Banchero doesn’t turn 21 until Nov. 12. Of Orlando’s expected starters, Markelle Fultz is the old man in the group. And he’s all of 25.

But the talent is real.

Banchero leads the way as the team’s best scorer. Franz Wagner and Moritz Wagner played big roles in helping Germany win the World Cup this summer. Fultz, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs keep the backcourt moving, while Wendell Carter Jr. was solid at center.

Signing veteran Joe Ingles was smart; he instantly becomes the voice of experience.


Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks watches his game winning 29-foot three point basket against Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics during the fourth quarter in game five of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at TD Garden on April 25, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts

FILE–Trae Young #11 of the Atlanta Hawks.  Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP

Trae Young averaged 26.2 points and 10.2 assists last season, making him only the sixth NBA player to finish a year with such numbers. The others: Oscar Robertson, Tiny Archibald, Michael Adams, Russell Westbrook and James Harden.

Young with players like Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Hunter and World Cup silver medalist Bogdan Bogdanovic should mean that the Hawks contend for a playoff berth. Having Snyder as coach for a full season will be another plus, after he was hired late last year.

But the defense must improve: Atlanta was 6-23 when allowing more than 122 points last season.


Charlotte Hornets forward Brandon Miller

FILE–Charlotte Hornets forward Brandon Miller. (Ellen Schmidt/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Getting point guard LaMelo Ball back — he played 36 games last season — means a ton to the Hornets, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.

And the Hornets are raving about the development of rookie Brandon Miller, the No. 2 overall pick who got stronger and added muscle mass over the summer.

It’s a mix of young with veterans like Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier. Miles Bridges’ legal situation – he will miss the first 10 games while completing an NBA-issued suspension over a domestic violence charge — likely worsened when he was accused of violating a protection order.


Kyle Kuzma Wizards NBA

FILE – Washington Wizards forward Kyle Kuzma. (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel, File)

It’s a new day in Washington, with Beal among those gone — traded to Phoenix — and a new backcourt with Jordan Poole (acquired from Golden State) and Tyus Jones (from Memphis) set to be the Wizards’ starters.

Kyle Kuzma is coming off his best season (21.2 ppg) and veteran wing Danilo Gallinari is ready to play again after missing last season with a knee injury.

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Changes were made after a fifth consecutive losing season, and the second straight in which Washington went 35-47. Expect some growing pains, with 12 of Washington’s first 19 games on the road.

TAGS: Miami Heat, NBA

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