5 Burning NBA Questions: The Southeast Division

The push will come stronger and faster. You can’t work your way into it. No waiting for tomorrow. You have until April 28 – that’s less than two months – to work your way into the postseason. If you’re in the East, there’s hope. Outside of three or four teams, everyone else is one big injury away from a five-game slide and a shot at extinction. Outside of Miami and Chicago, get too big-headed and you’ll be slain. Lose your confidence and you’ll end up next to Washington and Charlotte.

Questions abound for everyone, and by this point, patterns are developing. We’ve already hit you with the Northwest, Central and the Atlantic Division among others. Now, here are five burning questions for the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

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Even though at 18-18, Portland is underachieving like a bad brunch meal from Sonic, the Blazers are 13-6 at home. In the Rose Garden, they play with unstoppable energy. Before last night’s TNT affair with the Heat, someone asked me who I would take in that game and by how much. My response? Portland. By four. Turns out even myself – someone who respects the Heat’s potential and doesn’t go out of my way to say stupid things like “OMG!! LeBron just sucks. Regular season doesn’t matter. Miami will suck in the playoffs!!” (as if reaching the Finals in their first season together was no biggie) – took the Heat for granted. They disintegrated the Blazers in every facet of the game, and ‘Bron and Dwyane Wade looked so good they probably could’ve stopped Captain Planet by themselves.

The Heat are winning games unlike anyone else in the league. Their point differential is sitting at a plus-9.5 (Chicago is the only one close). For the Heat, they may always have problems in the half-court; Their two best players are best with the ball, and one of them grew up in a system that should’ve just been named after him because he had the ball in his mitts so often. They’re currently playing at the seventh-fastest pace in the league, and honestly, that’s not good enough. Even Charles Barkley isn’t wrong about this one: Miami must play faster. They must be quicker than anyone they play. If they can do that, it may not matter so much about struggling at times as a half-court team. Play defense. Push the rock. If they can do that consistently, I don’t think anyone will beat them.

[RELATED: 5 Burning NBA Questions: The Central Division]

The people of Orlando might like their team. I don’t. Too many threes. Too many swingmen who don’t play good enough defense. Too much pressure on Dwight Howard. In fact, it’s cliche to say it, but Orlando’s biggest question mark – their only question mark going forward – is what the team will look like by the end of the season. We knew Howard would last through the All-Star break; Otis Smith couldn’t screw that one up and allow his big man to come back to Orlando wearing a different uniform. But now it’s officially on.

Howard to Brooklyn? Howard to L.A.? Howard to Dallas? All signs are pointing to Howard getting to the Nets one way or another, whether it’s through a trade (less preferable for him) or as a free agent (what Chris Broussard is reporting he wants to do). Orlando is still 23-14, and they’ve won seven of their last 10. And currently, they’re sitting in the No. 5 spot in the East, meaning they’d go up against Philly in the first round. If I’m Orlando, I love that matchup.

As Dennis Green would say right now, the Magic are who we thought they were. The real question is we don’t know who they’ll be two weeks from now.

The Hawks of the past few seasons are a lot like one of those old standing sitcoms that never changes. Pick any Atlanta game from the last three or four seasons and you’ll see the same things. Some ugly offensive possessions. A few spectacular highlights. Blown games. And a lot of empty seats. But for most of this year, it felt like Atlanta had finally turned a corner as a viable championship threat with the emergence of Jeff Teague, Joe Johnson doing his “I’m either overrated or underrated” thing and Josh Smith coming alive. Then Al Horford got hurt, J-Smoove was left hanging at the altar by the All-Star Game and now the Hawks are just 20-15, the No. 6 seed in the East.

The Hawks are in a similar position as the Magic. For once, they aren’t sure what they have. Dealing Smith probably means they’re driving a fork into this season. But with the return of Horford on the horizon, I wouldn’t do anything swift.

Reports have floated around tying Josh Smith to the Celtics but realistically, I don’t see those panning out. Atlanta is only giving up Smith if it means they get a star in return. I don’t see the point in going after Rondo, and everyone else in Boston is getting so old they might not even make it through the flight to Atlanta.

The Hawks are just No. 23 in points per game (93) and No. 21 in rebounding (41.7). Best to wait it out and see what they have once Horford is healthy and moves everyone back to their natural positions.

[RELATED: 5 Burning NBA Questions: The Atlantic Division]

When you’re 4-29 and have such a miscast team that even your own fans and bloggers have turned against you and admitted the obvious – “We f—– suck!” – everyone in the organization should be admitting this season is over. Play the young guys. Find out who’s a keeper, and who’s the extra fat you can Slim-Fast outta here.

The Bobcats’ two best players – with identical PERs of 15.5 – are D.J. Augustin and Kemba Walker, two shoot-first point guards who could potentially play together on a good team. But in Charlotte, where perhaps the best defensive player is a young cat who doesn’t even play (Bismack Biyombo), playing those two together isn’t the future answer. Neither is leaning on three or four players – Corey Maggette, Byron Mullens and Boris Diaw – who play absolutely no defense.

Pin your hopes on a ping-pong ball, pray Maggette passes once in a while and hope Tyrus Thomas (awful 8.7 PER) uncovers the map back to wherever he buried his game… Charlotte’s entire organization is pretty much one big question mark.

I’m probably one of the biggest John Wall fans in all of sports media. He’s once again on another one of those 5-10 game runs that NO ONE ever recognizes because we’re too busy looking at Andray Blatche‘s gut and JaVale McGee‘s tendancy to do something stupid. In his last five games though, Wall is shooting 50 percent and putting up 21.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.6 steals. His numbers look eerily like Derrick Rose‘s in his first two seasons. But even I can’t explain Wall’s quarterbacking of the second-worst offense in the NBA. Washington’s offensive efficiency (95.5) dwarfs Charlotte’s by nearly four points, but that’s only because the Bobcats are well… the Bobcats.

Washington has two groups of players:

The A Group: Nick Young, Jordan Crawford, Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis… guys who are only involved when they score… aren’t efficient…more apt to get drafted higher in fantasy leagues because of things like dunks and YouTube videos
The B Group: Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely…team-first guys who always play hard… actually know the word “sacrifice”… but just aren’t very talented

That leaves Wall, and JaVale McGee. The rest of this year will feel like a season of “Two And A Half Men” (before it introduced Kutcher and went bad). McGee was damaged goods to begin with, so Charlie (the rest of the Wizards) wasn’t going to do anything other than make him act out. Drink incessantly. Watch porn in the living room. Try to date three girls at once and end up screwing everything up. But I think he can be saved. Get him a better role model and maybe he won’t do things like run to the wrong basket.

And then Wall is only dabbling in the bad habits. Here and there, Charlie (the rest of the Wizards) catches him at the right time when he’s feeling vulnerable, and he does something crazy, like trying to go coast-to-coast on four consecutive possessions. But he’s the only true sane one living in a world that’s been turned on its head.

Washington’s question mark for the second half: How exactly do we turn around this crazy, f—– up environment we’ve created? How do we kill off Charlie?

What are these teams’ biggest question marks?

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