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NBA Daily: Early-Season Southeast Division Rankings

Basketball Insiders continues its divisional rankings series this week with a look into the Southeast Division by newcomer Tristan Tucker.

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Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking an early-season look at each division. Jonathon Gryniewicz has already looked at the Central Divison and, today, we’ll take a look at the Southeast Divison.

It’s been up and down for the Southeast thus far, but which team has looked the worst? The best? Let’s take a look.

5. Washington Wizards, 0-3

If nothing else, the Wizards have been enjoyable to start the season despite their 0-3 record. Russell Westbrook moved to ninth all-time on the Wizards’ triple-double rankings in just two games with the franchise while the team played the contending Philadelphia 76ers closely in their first game of the season.

And, despite the poor record, there’s plenty of reason for optimism through the team’s first three games. Deni Avdija has already taken on a starting role, Washington has been competitive without Rui Hachimura. Meanwhile, Raul Neto has exploded into a seemingly decent role player, matching his career-high in the team’s most recent matchup with the Orlando Magic.

This next stretch of games should give a better indication of where the Wizards stand in the Eastern Conference pecking order, as they face the Chicago Bulls in back-to-back games before taking on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Brooklyn Nets.

4. Charlotte Hornets, 1-2

Charlotte is arguably the most fun team in the division even though they boast a 1-2 record. The Hornets looked dead in the water in its first two games against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder before battling back and scrapping its way back into each game. Then on Sunday night, the Hornets knocked off the then-seemingly unbeatable Nets.

Gordon Hayward, a signing that was heavily ridiculed, has looked like his former self through three games, while Terry Rozier has played the best ball of his career after scoring a career-high 42 points in the season opener against Cleveland.

Devonte’ Graham has been a playmaking beast and P.J. Washington has already evolved into one of the most intriguing young big men in the NBA. Washington had a poor first outing in Cleveland but put up 18 points and eight rebounds against Oklahoma City and 14 points, 12 rebounds and five assists against Brooklyn.

Once Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball get going, and they absolutely should, this team can be extremely dangerous and has the capability to win a few more upset games in a similar fashion to the Brooklyn game.

3. Orlando Magic, 3-0

The biggest storyline of this season for Orlando is going to be how Markelle Fultz, Cole Anthony and Chuma Okeke can contribute to an Orlando team that is bringing back most of its core from last season. With Jonathan Isaac out for the year and Al-Farouq Aminu out for the foreseeable future, Orlando is going to have to rely on its young blood to inject new life into the team.

So far, the return has been favorable. Fultz has scored at least 15 points in each of Orlando’s three games and has looked like their undisputed lead guard of the future. Anthony has also been very impressive in his rookie season, providing a spark off the bench in one of the most underrated units in the league.

After a back-to-back matchup with Washington, the Magic are 3-0, one of the last remaining undefeated teams in the league. That said, outside of the expected greatness of Terrance Ross and Nikola Vucevic and youth from Anthony, Fultz and Okeke, the rest of the group has left a lot to be desired.

Evan Fournier has been a solid starter but Dwayne Bacon hasn’t done much of anything with his minutes despite a reunion with Steve Clifford and the potential to be a great rotation player for this team. Aaron Gordon looked great in his first two games but put up a four-point dud on only one made shot in the most recent game against Washington.

If Orlando wants to be in the playoff mix in the East, it will need more contributions from its rotation players outside of its young core and stars.

2. Atlanta Hawks, 2-0

Atlanta had some of the most roster turnover in the league over the offseason, adding a mix of youth and experience to help get Trae Young and Co. over the hump and into the playoffs. So far, those additions seem to have paid off.

In the first game of the season, the Hawks beat the brakes off Chicago and scored a whopping 83 points in the first half alone. The game would have looked even more lopsided than the final 124-104 score if not for a 13-point fourth quarter by Atlanta.

As expected, Young has looked phenomenal, scoring at least 36 in each of the first two games and picking up at least seven assists in each as well. The supporting cast, however, has looked like a complete 180 from last season.

Even in their game against the Memphis Grizzlies, in which Atlanta was seriously undermanned, players like Nathan Knight, a rookie out of William & Mary, stepped up. Knight finished that game with 14 points in just nine minutes.

De’Andre Hunter looks like a great tertiary or fourth option on this team and a rotation staple while Kevin Huerter, John Collins, Cam Reddish, Danilo Gallinari and Bogdan Bogdanovic have all flashed.

The Hawks might not end up with the best record in the Southeast when all is said in done, but there is so much to be excited about for this team, including its insane depth. The fact that an undrafted rookie two-way contract player was able to make a key contribution against the likes of Jonas Valanciunas and Brandon Clarke is telling of how competitive Atlanta is from top to bottom.

1. Miami HEAT, 1-1

Barring the annual Orlando snafu that Miami faces each year, the team and its fans have no reason to believe that it won’t be the best team in the Southeast this season. The key here for Miami will be the health of its stars, including Jimmy Butler, who made an early exit from their Christmas Day game against New Orleans.

Duncan Robinson still looks like a top-tier shooter in the league, while Goran Dragic’s age and plantar fasciitis from last season don’t seem to be slowing him down anytime soon. Meanwhile, rookie Precious Achiuwa looks like yet another steal for the HEAT as an electric big off the bench that could provide major intrigue when he plays next to Bam Adebayo.

Once head coach Erik Spoelstra figures out all the wrinkles in his rotation, i.e. which centers to give minutes to and where KZ Okpala might fit into the equation, Miami will likely go on a run.

Up next for the HEAT is one of the biggest tests the team will face all season, with a back-to-back against the Milwaukee Bucks and games against the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics all on the horizon. If they escape that stretch with a decent record, Miami has no excuse to not take the division crown once more.

While the top of the Southeast should look as it did last season, there is plenty of room for movement among all other teams in the division. An expanded play-in tournament could mean that all five of the teams in the division make a run at the postseason. While other divisions may offer more stability, the Southeast will undoubtedly be one of the most exciting throughout the year.

My name is Tristan Tucker and I am a basketball writer currently enrolled at North Carolina State University. I am the school paper's assistant sports editor and have written for SB Nation and Fansided. I joined Basketball Insiders in December of 2020.

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2021 Olympics Basketball Betting Picks

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On Wednesday, the Olympics’ schedule for men’s basketball begins with the United States taking on Iran at 12:40 a.m. (EST). This is one of the listed games for Group A. For the preview, prediction, and betting picks for the USA vs. Iran matchup, this other article is available for bettors. Then, for Group B, Italy will play against Australia at 4:20 a.m. (EST). For the second Group A matchup on Wednesday, the Czech Republic will face France at 8:00 a.m. (EST). These games can be watched live via Peacock, NBC’s exclusive streaming service. Viewers can also watch the televised games with NBA League Pass.

Bovada and MyBookie are two excellent betting sites for gambling on men’s basketball during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The best NBA betting apps are from MyBookie, BetUS, Bovada, Intertops, and BetOnline. When bettors use MyBookie, the app offers a $500 deposit bonus for new users. For the Italy vs. Australia and France vs. Czech Republic games, if an individual wants to bet on the best moneyline, DraftKings is the superior choice. For a side note, these games are being played at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.

Italy vs. Australia – Group B

Spread: Italy +7 (+112), Australia -7 (-108)

Total: 171.5

Over/Under: -108, -112

Best Moneyline: Italy +240, Australia -330

Accessibility: NBC Sports App

Italy Starting Lineup: 

PG: Nico Mannion 

SG: Stefano Tonut

SF: Simone Fontecchio

PF: Michele Vitali

C: Nicolo Melli 

Australia Starting Lineup:

PG: Patty Mills

SG: Matthew Dellavedova 

SF: Joe Ingles

PF: Aron Baynes

C: Jock Landale 

Italy defeated Germany 92-82 on Sunday, July 25. Forward Simone Fontecchio led the team in statistics, finishing his performance with 20 points, four rebounds, three steals, and one block. Stefano Tonut had 18 points, three rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Italy’s bench players combined for 28 points in their 10-point win over Germany. Hawks’ forward Danilo Gallinari scored 18 points from the bench, too. One big advantage the Italians had over the Germans was their three-point shooting accuracy. They shot 15-for-31 (48.4 percent) from beyond the arc. Plus, Italy had a total of 11 steals overall, and this was on top of an 11-0 run to help seal their first victory.

Moreover, Australia defeated Nigeria 84-67 on Sunday, July 25. The top story after this win was Australia’s bench players outscoring their starters. The Aussies’ starters scored 26 points versus Nigeria, while the reserve players had 58 points! A win is a win, but some players needed to elevate their intensity, such as Jazz’s Joe Ingles. In 33 minutes, he scored only 11 points  In 35 minutes played, guard Patty Mills ended his performance with 25 points, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals. Forward Nick Kay had 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and one block. While the Aussies did out-rebound the Nigerians 44 to 38, they also had a much higher free throw shooting percentage, shooting 17-for-19 (89.5 percent) from the free throw line.

Prediction – Australia wins by four points

Australia is the favored team over Italy. They held Nigeria to 67 points. Aside from Gallinari’s decent performance from the bench against Germany, some bettors are not expecting the Italians to be able to keep up with the Aussies this time around. According to Bovada, Australia has -350 odds of defeating Italy, whereas the Italians have +275 odds of pulling off the upset. In all fairness, picking Australia is the best bet. Not to mention, it is the safest bet concerning the uncertainties each of the players are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

France vs. Czech Republic – Group A

Spread: France -9.5 (-105), Czech Republic +9.5 (-115)

Total: 165

Over/Under: -110

Best Moneyline: France -450, Czech Republic +355

Accessibility: NBC Sports App

France Starting Lineup:

PG: Nando De Colo

SG: Evan Fournier

SF: Nicolas Batum

PF: Guerschon Yabusele

C: Rudy Gobert

Czech Republic Starting Lineup:

PG: Tomas Satoransky

SG: Blake Schilb

SF: Jaromir Bohacik

PF: Ondrej Balvin

C: Jan Vesely

France defeated Team USA 83-76 this past Sunday. In 34 minutes played, shooting guard Evan Fournier ended his performance with 28 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one steal. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert finished his game with 14 points, nine rebounds, and one assist. The bench players combined for 17 points against USA. Moustapha Fall scored seven points and acquired four rebounds. On top of Brooklyn Nets’ small forward Kevin Durant fouling out, Team USA missing too many baskets led to a satisfying victory for France. The French shot 29-for-62 (46.8 percent) from the field, whereas the Americans shot 25-for-69 (36.2 percent) from the field. France also out-rebounded USA 42 to 36. Furthermore, Fournier and Gobert are once again starting for France versus Czech Republic.

In the Czech Republic’s 84-78 victory over Iran, bench player Patrik Auda led the team in scoring, with a total of 16 points in 23 minutes played. He also had six rebounds against Iran. Blake Schilb had 14 points, four rebounds, five assists, and one block in 24 minutes played. Schilb is projected to be in the starting lineup against France. While the Iranians shot 31-62 (50 percent) from the field, the Czechs had a field goal shooting percentage of 44.6 percent. This was based on shooting 33-for-74. If the Czech players prefer quantity over quality, they will most likely struggle versus France’s starting lineup. Additionally, it helped for the team to out-rebound Iran 43 to 33. We’ll see if the Czech Republic can maintain their rebounding abilities against fresh NBA-tested competitors.

Prediction – France wins by six points

Sports bettors might be tempted to pick an upset on Wednesday, but then again, we have little data to base our predictions on this early during the Tokyo Olympics. France was good enough to defeat Team USA, so picking them to win over the Czech Republic makes perfect sense. And, when we look at the number of different French players who have NBA experience, the best possible pick becomes as clear as daylight. Expect the Czechs to hang with the French throughout the majority of the four quarters. However, France will pull away in the closing minutes to earn their second victory in the Tokyo Games.

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Team USA vs. Iran – Preview, Prediction, & Betting Picks

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Team USA is coming off their first Olympics’ loss in men’s basketball since 2004. In the post-game press conference after USA lost 83-76 against France, head coach Greg Popovich said, “When you lose a game, you’re not surprised. You’re disappointed. I don’t understand the word ‘surprised.’ That sort of disses the French team, as if we’re supposed to beat them by 30. That’s a hell of a team.” Leading up to this matchup, another contributing factor for the team’s loss was Wizards‘ guard Bradley Beal bowing out of the Olympics after being placed in the COVID-19 health and safety protocols during training camp. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Beal averaged 31.3 points per game. Regarding the injury report, as of July 27th, there are no reported injuries for these two teams.

Moreover, the USA’s second men’s basketball game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is schedule for Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST). Unfortunately, the next two USA men’s basketball games are not guaranteed to air live on television in the United States. However, the games can be watched on NBC channels (delayed) and NBC’s exclusive streaming service known as Peacock. Plus, the NBC Sports mobile app will stream the games live. Free trials are also available for Hulu + Live TV, YouTube TV, fuboTV, Sling TV, or AT&T TV Now. The game can also be watched via NBA League Pass. For betting on medal and group winners for men’s basketball, Bovada offers the best service.

Game Details

Date & Time: Wednesday, July 28th at 12:40 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC (delayed)

Spread: USA -41.5 (-110) (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Over/Under: 166.5

Best Moneyline: USA -8000, Iran +2500 (per DraftKings Sportsbook)

Team USA Starting Lineup:

PG: Damian Lillard 

SG: Zach LaVine 

SF: Kevin Durant

PF: Draymond Green

C: Bam Adebayo 

Team Iran Starting Lineup:

PG: Mohammad Jamshidi

SG: Behnam Yakhchali

SF: Arsalan Kazemi

PF: Samad Nikkhah Bahrami

C: Hamed Haddadi

Bovada and MyBookie are two available betting sites for gambling on men’s basketball during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. The best NBA betting apps are from MyBookie, BetUS, Bovada, Intertops, and BetOnline. With MyBookie, the app offers a $500 deposit bonus for new users. For the USA vs. Iran matchup, if an individual wants to bet on the best moneyline, DraftKings is another option as well.

USA vs. Iran Preview

Referencing Bovada’s Olympics odds, Team USA is the favorite to win gold in men’s basketball, with odds showing -250. Slovenia and Australia are tied for second, possessing +800 odds. With odds showing +75000, Iran ranks 12th for odds to win the gold medal. They could still win their fourth consecutive gold medal in basketball, but this team appears to be different from previous USA men’s basketball teams. Their performance against the French was pitiful. Anyways, according to the DraftKings Sportsbook, this past Sunday, USA opened as 12.5-point favorites versus Iran. However, yesterday the oddsmakers changed their projection to 29.5-point favorites. As of Tuesday, July 27, DraftKings Sportsbook has USA listed as 41.5-point favorites over Iran.

Team USA’s starting lineup in the Olympics consisted of Zach LaVine, Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Bam Adebayo. In the team’s 83-76 loss against France, with a total of 18 points, Milwaukee Bucks‘ guard Jrue Holiday led the team in scoring. However, Holiday’s performance was not sufficient enough to carry the team. His teammates around him failed to contribute at a higher level. In 25 minutes played, Bam Adebayo closed out his performance with 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block. Damian Lillard also scored 11 points, three rebounds, and three assists. For the winning team, the leading scorer for France was Evan Fournier, finishing his game with 28 points and four rebounds. The French ended their first win on a 16-2 run late in the fourth quarter.

While the turnovers and field goal percentages were identical between these two teams, the difference-makers were personal fouls. For free throw shooting percentage, France shot 17-for-24 (70.8 percent) from the free throw line, whereas USA shot 16-for-21 (76.2 percent). Additionally, France committed 21 fouls in the match, which was all right considering USA had a total of 25 personal fouls called against them. Despite small forward Kevin Durant scoring 10 points, he also fouled out of the game. This was another poor game plan by Coach Popovich. This was especially evident in the team’s consecutive losses against Australia and Nigeria during those exhibition games. Practice games or not, USA looked less than mediocre, never mind lethargic and disinterested.

Then again, Iran is also trying to recover from an 84-78 loss versus Czech Republic. Guard Behnam Yakhchali led the team on the stat sheet, ending his performance with 23 points, three rebounds, and four assists in 36 minutes played. In 29 minutes on the court, Mohammad Jamshidi had 16 points, one rebound, and seven assists. For the Czech Republic, with 16 points, Patrik Auda led his team in points. While the Czechs out-rebounded the Iranians 43 to 33, they also had fewer turnovers. The winning team had 15 turnovers, while Iran had 21 overall.

The team came close to erasing a 21-point deficit. Iran’s past starting lineup was Benam Yakhchali, Mohammad Jamshidi, Samad Bahrami, Arsalan Kazemi, and Hamed Haddadi. Though, this is subject to change. The projected starting lineup is listed in the game details section shown above. Yakhchali will once again be returning as a guard, and of course, he led the team in scoring against the Czech Republic. 

Prediction: USA wins by 15+ points

Team USA is nearly a 42-point favorite against Iran. Based on their previous 89-79 defeat versus France, it is certainly hard to believe this team will beat a team by 40 points. Many bettors were not expecting for Durant to foul out, either. After their seven-point loss, Bovada adjusted the odds of USA winning their group. Now, France has the favored -550 odds of winning Group A, whereas USA has +400 odds. Though, between USA and Iran right now, the Americans are obviously the best of the worst. All things considered, USA will likely have their first bounce-back victory, but the question right now is, how many points will they win by?

Some bettors are speculating a 12-point margin of victory, however, others are suggesting 23 points. A prediction of at least 15 points sounds reasonable. Why? It’s because Iran’s men’s basketball team has lost multiple games already. In the FIBA World Cup Qualifying Round (2019) for Group F, Japan defeated Iran 70-56. Then, Spain defeated Iran 73-65 later in the year. Iran losing 84-78 versus the Czech Republic just adds to this notable trend. Nevertheless, while some could say that Iran is due for their first win, so is the USA. The Americans have not lost multiple games since 2004. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, the USA lost 92-73 versus Puerto Rico, 94-90 against Lithuania, and 89-81 versus Argentina. Time will tell if the Americans can turn over a new leaf.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Bradley Beal never requested a trade, remains committed to Wizards

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This NBA offseason has been a frustrating one for some die-hard fans, especially Washington Wizards‘ fans. On June 18, 2021, news broke concerning shooting guard Bradley Beal announcing his commitment to play for the USA Basketball Men’s National Team. A few weeks ago, it was reported by USA Basketball that Beal would not play in the Tokyo Olympics. And, this was because the 28-year-old three-time NBA All-Star had to enter the COVID-19 health and safety protocols. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Missouri native.

In an interview published by CBS Sports on July 15, 2021, regarding the chance to play for USA Basketball, Beal told CBS’ Michael Kaskey-Blomain, “It’s an honor. It’s something that you take for granted. Not a lot of guys in the league get this opportunity. We all know that. We didn’t live up to what we wanted to a few years ago (in the 2019 FIBA World Cup), and so now we have an opportunity to get back what’s rightfully ours.”

In 2010, Beal won the FIBA-Under 17 World Cup MVP. Though, everyone can see his passion for basketball. Needless to say, it is an awful experience for any athlete to have to bow out of the Olympics. In addition to this unfortunate news, there is all kinds of speculation across the Internet concerning Beal’s future with the Wizards. From Boston.com, it was reported two days ago that Beal would welcome a trade if he was moved to the Boston Celtics. The report also included three other teams: Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers. This latest news information was originally reported by Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer. Last Saturday, Fischer stated, “Boston’s path to securing Beal would appear far more costly, as the Celtics’ offer almost certainly has to include Jaylen Brown and all of their future draft picks they are able to part with.”

Although the report could still be accurate, many fans are asking for more evidence to help support this claim. This is Beal’s team; he was drafted by Washington third overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. Would the Wizards be wiling to trade their star player for Jaylen Brown and potential future draft picks? This remains to be seen. Plus, everyone should keep in mind that although Beal was open to a trade, at least he never demanded an immediate trade. The latest news is likely just trade rumors and meaningless gossip.

Moreover, the 2020-21 Wizards finished 34-38 (.472), ranking third in the Southeast Division and eighth overall in the Eastern Conference. The team lost four games to one in the first round of the postseason against the 76ers. The Wizards have not appeared in the NBA Finals since the 1978-79 season, and they have not won the championship since the 1977-78 season, when they defeated the Seattle Supersonics in Game 7 105-99. Not to mention, the Wizards were called the Bullets back then.

After the season ended, the organization agreed to part ways with head coach Scott Brooks. Perhaps Coach Brooks leaving the team is leading Beal to ask more questions about his own future. According to one report by NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk, Beal was irked over the organization hiring Wes Unseld Jr. over Sam Cassell for the vacant head coach position. How much does this play into trade talks?

Well, we all know that Beal is a competitive player, so three consecutive losing seasons by Washington might not be cutting it for him. Then again, a great player should be willing to give a new coach a chance. Last season, in 60 games played, the six-foot-three guard averaged 31.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. The 9-year NBA veteran also shot 48.5 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. In the 2021 All-Star Game, in 31 minutes played, Beal scored 26 points.

On October 17, 2019, Beal signed a two-year, $72 million extension with Washington. He earned $28.7 million this past season, and he will earn $34.5 million in the upcoming 2021-22 season. Beal’s player option for the 2022-23 season is also $37.2 million. So, folks should keep in mind that Beal is still showing his loyalty to the Wizards. He is only considering a trade request before the draft. The key word here is “considering.” Having said this, not even LeBron James is safe from a trade in this league. Ok, maybe only James is safe.

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