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Welcome to “The Atlantic,” a weekly column where we ‘trend up’ and ‘trend down’ news and notes from the NBA’s Atlantic Division.
The Boston Celtics are no longer the most disappointing team in the Atlantic Division – the Knicks are. Is Andrea Bargnani a top-10 power forward? Can the New Jersey Nets still make the playoffs? After a cool stretch, things are heating up again in the Atlantic.
The Celtics’ confidence was at its lowest point of the season when they lost to Phoenix 79-71 a week ago at home. Since then the Celtics have rattled off four wins in a row while playing without Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. The team’s confidence is now sky high. E’Twaun Moore isn’t afraid to shoot the ball anymore. Marquis Daniels in playing more like himself. Avery Bradley looks confident enough to dribble the ball up the court without immediately passing it. Sasha Pavlovic isn’t backing down from anyone on defense. Even Chris Wilcox decided to show up for the season. The Celtics’ burst of confidence starts with the captain, Paul Pierce, who has been superb. Pierce is averaging 26 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds in his last 4 games, whereas Lebron James is averaging 27.6 and 8 in his. No one in the league is playing with more confidence right now than Pierce.
As long as this team continues to win, it stays together. Simple, right? Well, not quite. For now the trade talk has cooled, but if a Western Conference team blows Danny Ainge away with a deal for Pierce, I think he still takes it. Ainge has said he is not afraid to break this team up for the future of the franchise, and I believe him. Stay tuned.
Jodie Meeks was hard to watch to when season startedm but thanks to a strong week, he’s now shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arc. For a team that’s short on effective long-range shooters, Meeks heating up has to be a good sign in Philadelphia.
If you count Atlanta and Indiana as Philadelphia’s two good wins, the rest of the teams they’ve beaten have a combined winning percentage below 36 percent. Philadelphia’s strength of schedule so far has not been good. A third of the Sixers wins have come at the expense of Washington and Detroit. Now the Sixers embark on one of the toughest seven-game stretches any team in the NBA will see this year. Let’s check back in two weeks before proclaiming the Sixers ‘elite.’
When you get blown out by the Milwaukee Bucks at home, and a few days later get dominated by the Cleveland Cavaliers, you’ve got problems. The Knicks have dropped eight of nine because teams have figured out how to beat them. All you have to do is let Carmelo Anthony shoot the ball and then box the hell out. Anthony is shooting horribly in January. Until the Knicks switch up the isolation offense, they are going to keep losing games.
The Knicks are losing games they shouldn’t be. The Knicks roster has elite talent on it. The conclusion is simple: If the Knicks aren’t at least at .500 by the All-Star break, D’Antoni is gone. New York has former Altanta Hawks head coach Mike Woodson sitting on it’s bench ready to take over should the Knicks let D’Antoni go.
The Nets have won two straight and are a game back of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Who currently holds that seed? Cleveland. If the Knicks keep losing and Milwaukee Bucks’ center Andrew Bogut struggles to recover from a fractured ankle, the door is wide open for the Nets. The last playoff team in the Eastern Conference is going to be a bad team; why shouldn’t the Nets aim to be that bad team?
If New Jersey can sneak into the playoffs and Orlando decides to try and hold onto Dwight Howard, that puts the Nets in a really good position. In 2012, the Brooklyn Nets will have enough cap space to sign Howard outright. Waiting to sign Howard as a free agent instead of trading for him allows the Nets to hold onto their greatest trade asset, Brook Lopez. A scary thought for the Celtics and the rest of the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors are 6-5 with a healthy Andrea Bargnani in the lineup, and 0-8 without. You could make the case that no one in the league means more to their team then the 7-foot Italian forward. Bargnani is sixth in the league in scoring and posts career highs in rebounding, field goal percentage, assists, and free throw attempts. Bargnani is becoming one of the top-10 power forwards in the game. With Bargnani, the Raptors are a fringe playoff team. Unfortunately for Toronto, Bargnani isn’t healthy.
It’s Hockey season in Canada and the Raptors have lost nine of 11. Do you think anyone in Canada really cares that there is currently a basketball team playing Toronto? Things couldn’t be uglier for Canada’s only NBA team.
Tags: Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Boston Celtics, Brook Lopez, Chris Wilcox, Danny Ainge, Dwight Howard, E'Twaun Moore, Jodie Meeks, LeBron James, Mike D'Antoni, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Paul Pierce, Philadelphia 76ers, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Toronto Raptors, trade rumors