1. Miami Heat
After winning the NBA Finals last season, the Heat enter 2013 as this year’s favorites after bolstering their lineup in the offseason. The additions of veterans Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis provide the Heat with a few more options along the perimeter. Those two could improve upon Miami’s already staggering 104.3 points per game last season, while the defense will continue to be one of the League’s best anchored by the game’s best player in LeBron James. James officially has the monkey off his back, and some of that pressure will be lifted off his shoulders. The team still doesn’t have the greatest interior talent, but James and Dwyane Wade’s athleticism makes up for that on both ends of the floor. After going 46-20 and virtually unstoppable at home (28-5), the quest at making in to a third straight NBA Finals is just around the corner for Miami.
2. Atlanta Hawks
The loss of Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets will sting. But the Hawks reloaded on offense throughout the offseason with the additions of Lou Williams, Devin Harris and Anthony Morrow. Williams led the Philadelphia Sixers last season with 14.9 points per game and is just 25 years old, while Morrow poured in 12 a night for the formerly known New Jersey Nets a year ago. I like the addition of Harris, and believe he could thrive with a team surrounded by bigs (Josh Smith and Al Horford) and shooters (Williams and Kyle Korver). The Hawks always seem to find themselves in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff standings once the regular season dwindles down. Without Johnson, they lack a true number one scorer, but they’ll find themselves in the postseason for the sixth consecutive season.
3. Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal was the team’s big offseason acquisition when the Wizards drafted him third overall in the draft. He was named to the NBA’s all-Summer League team (I know, it’s just summer league), and the combination of himself and John Wall could be lethal, especially in a few years. But the Wizards’ success relies on Wall. His point, assist and rebound per game averages dropped ever so lightly from his rookie campaign, and the shooting needs to improve some (42.3% last season). Emeka Okafor (9.9 ppg & 7.9 ppg) and Nene (13.7 ppg & 7.5 rpg) will greatly improve the Wizards defensively. Jan Vesely has a year under his belt, and Trevor Ariza will certainly provide sparks on both ends of the court. The past few seasons have been ones to forget about in Washington. But the Wizards are undergoing a transition phase that will leave them just a few spots out of the playoffs compared to a second-to-last place finish in the East a year ago.
4. Orlando Magic
Bye, Dwight Howard. And for the Magic, say goodbye to another year at reaching the playoffs. We’re all thankful the Howard Saga has come to a conclusion I think. But the Magic all but gave away the reigning three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Well, they nabbed Arron Afflalo, and that’s about all they have now after dumping basically their entire roster. Ryan Anderson was also shipped. Stan Van Gundy was ran out of town too. So, who are the Magic left with? Well, they’ll have the aforementioned Afflalo, Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu, Glen Davis, Al Harrington and J.J. Redick. None of those names jump out at me though. It’s rare to see a great disparity in the win/loss column over just one season, but it looks like the Magic are set up for a 35-win season after going 37-29 in 2012.
5. Charlotte Bobcats
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist won’t be able to turnaround the 7-59 Bobcats from a year ago by his lonesome. The ex-Kentucky Wildcat will have a solid NBA career. Bobcat fans just wish it could happen overnight. The Bobcats were the worst team on both offense (92.3 ppg) and defense (107.8 ppg) last year. That’s a differential margin of -15.5 points. You’re not going to win many games with that formula. The team brought in Ben Gordon who has some offensive skills, and should contribute significantly. But the Bobcats are still a few seasons away from becoming a threat in the East.