When we recently asked you to make your picks on which teams would win the Pacific and Northwest divisions, there were a handful of strong, viable choices. It’s not outlandish to view the Clippers, Lakers, or Warriors as potential division winners in the Pacific, while the Nuggets, Jazz, and Trail Blazers all have a realistic chance to finish atop the Northwest.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the Southeast is another division that doesn’t have an overwhelming favorite, but it’s not because there are a handful of potential Southeast powerhouses — it’s because the division isn’t particularly strong.
Last season, only one of the East’s playoff teams came out of the Southeast, as the 42-40 Magic sneaked into the postseason and claimed the division crown. The other four Southeast teams finished between ninth and 12th in the conference.
The division doesn’t project to be a whole lot stronger in 2019/20, though the Magic retained all their key free agents and still have room for growth. Orlando had one of the league’s best defenses during the second half of the 2018/19 season, and ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus projections are bullish on the club going forward. As Kevin Pelton details in an Insider story, ESPN’s RPM projections place the Magic fourth in the Eastern Conference for ’19/20, behind only Milwaukee, Boston, and Philadelphia.
Still, the Magic won’t enter the season as the Vegas favorites to win the Southeast. Betting site BetOnline.ag lists the Heat as the current frontrunners. Although Miami missed the postseason last season with a 39-43 record, the team is hopeful that replacing Josh Richardson with Jimmy Butler and getting further development from young players like Bam Adebayo and Justise Winslow will be worth several wins.
At this point, Orlando and Miami look like the only truly viable contenders for the division title, but it’s possible one of the other three clubs will significantly exceed expectations. The Hawks might be the best contender. John Collins, Trae Young, and Kevin Huerter should only get better, and if rookies De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish can provide positive contributions immediately, Atlanta could surprise some teams.
The outlook looks a little bleaker for the Wizards and Hornets. Washington, at least, has an All-Star player in Bradley Beal, but the team won only 32 games last season with Beal healthy, and he won’t have much more help this season. In Charlotte, the 39-43 Hornets are expected to take a step back after replacing All-NBA point guard Kemba Walker with Terry Rozier.
What do you think? Which team do you expect to win the Southeast in 2019/20? And are any of the teams in the division capable of winning a playoff series or two in the spring?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your two cents!
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