Capping the NBA Atlantic Division race
They were the darlings of the early portion of the shortened NBA season. Armed with new owners, a new energy, and a new philosophy overall, the Philadelphia 76ers looked like they were back.
But the problem with this version of 76ers is that, while diverse, deep and balanced, there is no Allen Iverson. No Moses Malone. No Julius Erving. No superstar to turn to at crunch time. And they’ve paid for it.
As a result, there’s quite a race going on in the Atlantic. Philadelphia, no longer in first place, has to rally, gain momentum, and find someone who can make a clutch shot, if it’s going to overtake resurgent Boston down the stretch.
Heck, if the Sixers continue their inconsistent ways, the short-handed Knicks may even overtake them for second place.
As the season takes a turn for home, let’s look at the three candidates for the Atlantic crown and what’s in store for them the rest of the way.
The division champ, remember, is guaranteed a Top-4 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Statistics and records through Monday.
ATS RECORD: 26-26
ATLANTIC DIVISION STANDING: First
ODDS TO WIN DIVISION: -225
THE SKINNY: No longer looking old and tired, the veteran Celtics have put it all together late in the year. Entering Tuesday, they had won five in a row and seven of their last 10. Who says the Big Three is done? Paul Pierce (19.1), Kevin Garnett (15.6), and Ray Allen (14.6) are Boston's leading scorers, and Rajon Rondo is averaging 11.1 assists.
The schedule isn’t easy the rest of the way, though. There are two more dates with Miami, as well as a pair versus Atlanta. But coach Doc Rivers is pushing the right buttons and everyone in green seems happy, which is bad news for the rest of the division.
ATS RECORD: 26-25-1
ATLANTIC DIVISION STANDING: Second
ODDS TO WIN DIVISION: +225
THE SKINNY: Philadelphia fattened up on home games during the dead of winter. The 76ers had 13 home contests in the first month of the year and they won 11. But the opponents (Washington, Charlotte, Milwaukee, Toronto, among others) didn’t offer much resistance and now that teams are punching the Sixers in the face, they aren’t responding.
The 76ers are in absolute must-win mode because of the Celtics’ run, and were just 2-2 in their previous four games heading into Tuesday's date versus Miami. That's fine if you're willing to except a No. 7 seed and a date with a top-tier team in Round 1. But if Philadelphia wants a decent seed and a true chance to advance, it needs more consistency in a hurry. For that to happen, leading scorer Lou Williams (15.3 ppg) needs a little help.
New York Knicks
ATS RECORD: 27-26
ATLANTIC DIVISION STANDING: Third
ODDS TO WIN DIVISION: +500
THE SKINNY: Jeremy Lin and Amar'e Stoudemire are on the shelf, and though the latter is expected back this week, it’s a tough road ahead for the Knicks. Though they are hanging tough in the division race, having won four of five headed into Tuesday’s game versus Indiana, at some point, the roster turnover and the hovering uncertainty has to catch up to this team. After all, the Knicks have changed point guards, changed coaches, changed starting lineups, etc etc. And as fluid a league as the NBA is, you don’t see many hodge-podge rosters winning division titles these days.
Carmelo Anthony - averaging 20.6 points, six rebounds, and 3.7 assists - can change all that, if he truly takes over this team and carries it home. But that seems unlikely when the Knicks have seven road games in the season’s final month, including stops at Orlando, Chicago and Atlanta.