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October 11, 2012; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) talks with Wizards guard Shelvin Mack (22) on the court against the New York Knicksin the second half at Verizon Center. The Knicks won 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

NBA 2012/13 Season Preview: 5 Big Predictions For Southeast Division

Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

1) THE MIAMI HEAT WILL NOT REPEAT AS NBA CHAMPIONS

It’s hard to bet against a team that has two of the top five or six players in the league with Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, but I still have my doubts that they can repeat.

For one, the Boston Celtics are still looming in the shadows. Boston did have a 3-2 series lead over the Heat in last years playoffs, and that was without Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox (Yes, I realize Wade was hurt as well). The Eastern Conference may not be as stacked as it is out West, but the Celtics are one of the few teams out there who can give Miami a run for its money, that’s for sure. It’s been proven on more than one occasion.

Even if the Miami Heat were to make the Finals (which I still believe they will), it will be anything but a cakewalk and that’s including if they battle the Oklahoma City Thunder again (whom they beat last year 4-1 to win the NBA Championship). If those two teams were to match up again once more, I would have more faith in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s hunger and desire to knock off the team that just defeated them the year before. Don’t let that 4-1 series loss confuse you. The Thunder can defeat the Heat. They’ve now had a taste of the Finals and if they return, they could look better than ever.

I’m not so sure that guys like Lebron James and Dwayne Wade will have that same drive to win another championship now that the proverbial monkey is off of their backs. Obviously they will strive to regain that glory once again, but now that the media and analysts of the NBA aren’t nitpicking every little thing that they do because of “King James” being ringless after 9 seasons, perhaps the “I’ll show you all” attitude won’t be there this time and the motivation on their part will be lacking.

This doesn’t even include the fact that repeating as champions of the NBA in this day and age isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Only one franchise (the Los Angeles Lakers) has repeated as world champions (09-10, 00-02) in the last 14 years.

Clearly the Heat are good enough to join the Lakers as repeat champions, but with the depth and talent around the league that Miami has to contend with, I feel a lot safer taking the field in 2012-13.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

2) JOSH SMITH OF THE ATLANTA HAWKS WILL MAKE HIS VERY FIRST ALL-STAR TEAM

It’s about damn time.

Year after year after year, Josh Smith has been constantly neglected by voters and coaches alike when it comes to earning a spot on the Eastern Conference all-star squad. Al Horford and former teammate Joe Johnson always earned the credit and recognition for the success of the Atlanta Hawks, making 8 all-star teams between the two.

With Joe now a member of the Brooklyn Nets and Horford working his way back from a shoulder injury, it’s finally time for Josh Smith to soak in the spotlight for a change.

In all fairness, Smith should have been an all-star last season over his teammate Johnson. Smith averaged 18.8 points (tied for team-high with Johnson), 9.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals a game. The argument could be made that Smith was more valuable last season to the Hawks than Joe was, as Josh contributed in more areas both offensively and defensively.

The Atlanta Hawks are now Josh Smiths team. The $120 million dollar man is no longer around. Despite all of the trade rumours surrounding Smith the last few years, he now has a tremendous opportunity in front of him to finally be “the man” and take Atlanta to greater heights in the Eastern Conference.

All of this will culminate in February when Smith competes in the annual NBA all-star game in Houston, Texas. He won’t be voted in by the fans, but his stellar play will undoubtedly get him chosen by coaches as a reserve.

Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-US PRESSWIRE

3) THE CHARLOTTE BOBCATS WILL BREAK YET ANOTHER RECORD FOR LOSSES AND FUTILITY

It’s hard to keep piling on a team that won a grand total of 7 games last season, but it looks like the Bobcats are going to have to suffer through at least one more horrible stretch of games (a record-breaking stretch) before the good times shine on through.

To end the 2011-12 season, the Charlotte Bobcats lost 23 straight games. Their last victory regular season victory was March 17th of last year when they defeated the Toronto Raptors 107-103.

The NBA record for the longest losing streak in league history is 26 games set by the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2010-11.

The Bobcats can still technically break that record if they lose their first four games of the 2012-13 season.

Charlotte will open the season Friday November 2nd against the Indiana Pacers (loss). They travel to Dallas the next night to do battle with the Mavericks (loss). The following week they have three games against the Suns, Hornets and Mavericks again, all of which can be assumed losses.

The best chances for a Bobcats victory will come the week of November 12 when they face the John Wall-less Wizards and Kevin Love-less Timberwolves, but by that point, Charlotte will have set a new benchmark in the NBA for consecutive losses.

If I can give any solace to Bobcats fans out there, it’s that this go-around, they won’t be the worst team in the league. That distinction is going to belong to…..

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

4) THE ORLANDO MAGIC WILL FINISH WITH THE WORST RECORD IN BASKETBALL

“With the first pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic select….”.

We all know it’s going to happen. Once Dwight Howard was dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic immediately went from a playoff contender to a bottom-feeder in the Eastern Conference.

Orlando has nothing in-house right now that can come close to replacing the career 18.0 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocks he brought to the franchise. The haul that the Magic got in return (Afflalo, Vucevic, Harrington, McRoberts, Harkless) for “Superman” will not appease the fan base whatsoever.

Aaron Afflalo has the potential to grow into a poor mans all-star for the Magic (15.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists), but as the teams #1 option for the foreseeable future, it won’t put W’s in the win column.

By predicting the Orlando Magic will be the worst team in the NBA, I’m basically saying that the Charlotte Bobcats (who garnered the worst winning percentage in league history ever last year) will have a better record, which may seem like a crazy claim in the eyes of many.

My theory is that the Bobcats are searching for improvement and are looking to garner victories to change the teams image around the league, while the Magic have their sights on the #1 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. That will be the difference between second-last and dead last in the NBA this season. The Magic may have more talent, but their future success is now 4-5 years from now. Getting high draft picks and acquiring young prospects is all this franchise should be concerning themselves with.

5) WASHINGTON WIZARDS BRADLEY BEAL WILL LEAD ALL ROOKIES IN SCORING

Predicting how rookies will fair in any major sports league is easier said than done. All we have to go on for the moment is a series of games which meant absolutely nothing in retrospect.

Bradley Beal has struggled so far in the preseason. He’s averaged 11.3 points on just 38% shooting from the field and 28% from long-range. He’s also put up 3.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

Obviously, those numbers will change over time. He wasn’t necessarily the most amazing of shooters at Florida (44% from the field), but he did show improvement towards the end of the season.

Odds are (especially with John Wall out for one month or longer) that Beal will begin the season as the teams starting shooting guard. Playing alongside more defensive minded players in Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor will provide Beal with plenty of opportunities to score the basketball. The Wizards are going to need to get their points from somebody right?

Once Wall returns from his injury, Bradley will be the one who benefits the most as he could very well find himself with much more open shots around the perimeter, especially uncontested three-pointers which will help his scoring totals.

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will be in the rookie scoring race as well, but I feel that Beal has so much upside on the offensive end (not to say Lillard doesn’t), that at least in year one, he will lead his draft class in that department. An estimate of 17-18 points a night seems like a fair assumption, but that’s only if he can stay consistent with his shooting.

It’s going to be close though.

Christopher Walder is a sports blogger and lead editor for Sir Charles in Charge. You may follow him on Twitter @WalderSports

Tags: Atlanta Hawks Bradley Beal Charlotte Bobcats Josh Smith LeBron James Miami Heat Orlando Magic Washington Wizards

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