Will a team from the Southeast division win the title in 2012?
The NBA's Southeast Division features one of the top teams in the NBA, two of the worst teams in the NBA and sandwiched in between these two extremes are two above-average teams.
At the top is the Miami Heat, who are undoubtedly one of the top teams in basketball. In the next tier behind the Heat, the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks are neck and neck in battling for the Eastern Conference's fourth seed.
Finally, there are two of the worst teams in the NBA in the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards.
With the All-Star break approaching, each of these teams will be looking at areas in which they can improve themselves not only for the remainder of this season but past this season. These changes relate to issues ranging from flaws in the roster to the struggles of a team's players.
Here is a look at three things that each team should change following the All-Star break.
After a sluggish start to the season, the Miami Heat have been rounding into form as of late and promise to be a tough out in the upcoming NBA playoffs.
Some of this has been caused by the Heat’s increased pace this season, but still—an average of 15.5 turnovers per game is too much for a team of the Heat’s caliber.
To erase the memories of last years NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat will need to take better care of the ball in the coming months.
This is the end result for many of the Heat's fastbreaks
When the Miami Heat have been pushing the offensive tempo this season, it looks like they may never lose a game again.
With Wade and James pushing the tempo, the Heat find easy looks at will.
The Heat aren’t slouches in the half court, but they are prone to long stretches of cold shooting at times.
For the Heat to avoid offensive struggles in the playoffs against elite defensive units like the Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics, they should continue to push the tempo as much as possible.
Joel Anthony and the Heat centers need to improve as the season progresses
The Heat, due to the nature of their team, are always going to have a tough time filling out certain positions on their roster.
Center has been the weak spot these past two years, as the Miami Heat centers have for the most part had little to no effect.
This year, the combination of Joel Anthony, Eddy Curry and Dexter Pittman have barely been heard from.
It is worth mentioning that the Heat often play Udonis Haslem at the center spot, but for the Heat to succeed in the playoffs, they will need a true center to emerge.
If a true center doesn’t emerge in the second half of the season, the Heat run the risk of being exposed defensively and on the boards in the playoffs.
How much longer will Howard be wearing a Magic uniform?
With the trade deadline approaching fast in this condensed season, the Orlando Magic face a difficult decision in regards to Dwight Howard.
On one hand, the Magic could keep Howard and take a run at the title this year and then hope he re-signs in the offseason.
The other option that the Magic have is to trade Howard for the best available package and guard against the risk that he leaves this offseason.
The Magic are definitely a playoff team, but are they a true contender for the title? The answer depends on whom you ask, but based on their recent swoon, the Magic could encounter a fate similar to last season's first-round exit if they keep Howard.
The risk of losing Howard for nothing is too great for the Magic to risk. If the Magic were to lose Howard for nothing, their team would instantly become one of the worst teams in the NBA.
Can Jameer Nelson bounce back in the second half?
If the Magic are to keep Dwight Howard and contend in the Eastern Conference come playoff time, they must improve their point guard situation.
Starting point guard Jameer Nelson, 9 PPG, 5 APG and 10.23 PER, and backup Chris Duhon, 3.6 PPG, 2.9 APG and 8.67 PER, have combined to give the Magic one of the worst point guard combinations in the league so far this season.
With few attractive trade assets left on their roster, the Magic will need Nelson and Duhon to elevate their games in the second half of the season.
The Magic need more of this
The Magic, as they have been in recent years, are full of proficient three-point shooters, and as a result are leading the league in three-pointers attempted.
When the three-pointers are falling, the Magic are very tough to beat, but as the saying goes, “live by the three, die by the three.”
The Magic’s infatuation with the three-point shot often gets them into trouble on the nights when the long ball isn’t falling. Instead of attempting to get to the basket, the Magic often seem intent on shooting the three ball until it starts falling.
With a concerted effort to attack the rim more often in the second half of the season, the Magic offense could become more effective come playoff time.
Jeff Teague is lethal in transition
Despite having players on their roster who thrive in fast-break situations, namely lightning-quick guard Jeff Teague and super-athlete Josh Smith, the Hawks seem content to run their isolation-heavy half-court offense.
The half-court offense does provide advantages, like the Hawks being third in the league in turnovers committed, but at the same time, it does make the Hawks predictable.
There is little doubt that Joe Johnson is a top-tier shooting guard, but running him in isolation sets constantly does lead to cold stretches in which the Hawks can’t buy a bucket.
If the Hawks push the tempo more in the second half of the season, they could prevent these cold stretches of stagnant offense.
Josh Smith and the Hawks need to improve at the line
For a team that does a decent job of getting to the free-throw line—21.6 attempts per game—the Hawks do a poor job of converting their freebies.
Currently, the Hawks sit at 23rd in the league with a free-throw percentage of 73.1.
Some of this can be attributed to the poor free-throw shooting of Josh Smith (55 percent), but the rest of the Hawks' roster aside from Joe Johnson has also struggled.
For a team that has seen its margin for error fall in the wake of the Al Horford injury, the Hawks could improve in the second half by hitting more of their foul shots.
Josh Smith needs frontcourt help
With Al Horford’s injury sidelining him until the playoffs, the Atlanta Hawks frontcourt has been stretched thin.
Starting power forward Josh Smith has thus far had another great season, and Zaza Pachulia has filled in well for Horford, but behind them the bench unit has struggled.
Ivan Johnson has been something of a revelation as a rookie, but the combination of him and Jason Collins coming off the bench as the frontline reserves isn’t exactly fearsome.
The signing of veteran Eric Dampier last week addresses part of this problem, but the Hawks would be well served to continue looking for additional frontline depth.
With a record of 7-22, the Washington Wizards are one of the most disappointing teams in the NBA.
Led by rising superstar John Wall, the Wizards were considered a fringe playoff team in the top-heavy Eastern conference.
Instead, the Wizards have struggled through the season's first 29 games, which in turn led to the firing of former coach Flip Saunders.
One of the major problems for the team so far is that opposing defenses are packing the lane and daring the Wizards to shoot from outside.
This has proven to be a very successful strategy for opposing defenses, as the Wizards are shooting a hair under 30 percent from three-point range, which is good for 26th in the league.
For the Wizards offense to take a step forward in the second half of the season, they will need the outside shooting to improve drastically.
The tandem of JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche was once viewed as a potential great front line a couple of years down the road.
Unfortunately for the Wizards, the McGee and Blatche combination in the post hasn’t worked out as planned.
Both of these players have talents, albeit in very different manners—Blatche can be a very effective low-post scorer and McGee is a phenomenal athlete who can have a great impact defensively.
However, one thing that they both have in common is that they aren’t viewed as having great basketball IQs.
Blatche, who is currently injured, has gone to the media with gripes about the coaching and not being involved enough in the offense. Similarly, McGee often seems to be playing in his own world, as he has pursued triple-doubles at the expense of his team.
The Wizards should gauge the interest around the league in either big man and see if they can find the right trade package before the trade deadline
The defense must improve for coach Randy Wittman
With the offense stumbling along, the Wizards need to go back to the drawing board and preach defense for the remainder of the season.
The team features a strong rim defender in McGee and a thief in Wall, but as a group they give up 99.4 points per game.
If the Wizards are to improve on their lowly record in the second half of the season, the team has to buy in and defend as a unit, not just individuals.
Building up the defense in the second half of the season would go a long way toward ushering in a brighter 2012-2013 season.
These guys need as many minutes as possible
The Charlotte Bobcats, simply put, are an awful basketball team.
Currently with a record of 3-25, the only thing the Bobcats will be contending for is the first pick in the 2012 NBA draft.
That being said, the obvious course of action for the Bobcats is to play their young players as much as possible.
Playing the likes of Corey Maggette, Boris Diaw, Matt Carroll and DeSagana Diop at the expense of young players like Bismark Biyombo, Byron Mullens, Derrick Brown and Kemba Walker doesn’t make sense for a team that is as bad as the Bobcats are.
It’s not like the results on the court can get any worse than they already are, can they?
Tyrus Thomas and the Bobcats need to improve on the boards
For the Bobcats to notch a couple more wins in the second half of the season, they need to do a better job controlling the glass.
As it stands now, the Bobcats are currently the worst team in the league when it comes to rebound differential, -4.8 per game.
A good way to put more points on the scoreboard is to generate second chances by attacking the glass and getting second opportunities.
Likewise, the Bobcats could improve defensively by limiting opponents' second chances.
If the Bobcats are to have a better second half of the season, they will need to improve both their offensive and defensive rebounding.
Corey Maggette could be on the move
The Bobcats don’t figure to contend for the playoffs anytime soon due to the dearth of talent on their roster, and as a result, almost every player should be available as the trade deadline approaches.
The rookies, Kemba Walker and Bismark Biyombo, are the only players on the roster who should be kept out of trade talks.
With the trade deadline less than a month away, the Bobcats should be looking for the right opportunities to acquire future picks and or young talent.
Despite their laughable record, the Bobcats have some pieces that could help playoff-bound teams improve their weaknesses.
Corey Maggette could provide a team with scoring punch off the bench, DeSagana Diop would strengthen a weak defensive front line for a number of contenders and DJ Augustin could provide valuable guard depth for a team.
If the right trade packages are out there at the trading deadline, the Bobcats should be active in making moves to gradually improve their roster.