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In “The Atlantic,” Sports of Boston “trends up” and “trends down” the news and notes from the NBA’s grittiest division.
How healthy are the Celtics? Can the Sixers fend off the surging Knicks? Are the Raptors tanking? Can the Nets’ swagger keep Deron Williams from fleeing in free-agency? The mysteries of the Atlantic will be revealed.
The Celtics are 11-5 when Avery Bradley plays at least 15 minutes and just 4-12 when he rides the pine. Bradley’s 12 points, five assists and three blocks against Oklahoma City was the best stat line of his young career. Bradley will never be a star, nor a starting point guard probably, but his positive influence on games will keep him in the NBA for a long time. Career backup position-less guards like Randy Brown, Tony Delk and Eddie House have created a niche, and Bradley’s athleticism and youth entering the league give him much greater potential than any of them ever had.
Five straight losses is tough on any team, but is it tougher on a team that thinks it should be contending for a title? Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo’s composure have all been suspect lately. Kevin Garnett is trying his hardest to keep the Celtics moving in the right direction on both ends of the court, but there’s only so much his body has left to give. Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox appear as brittle as Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable. The Celtics now have six days off for the All-Star break – it’s an important six days for the franchise.
The Sixers, like the Celtics, have lost five straight. But unlike the Celtics, it’s a bit easier to see why the losses are piling up- opponent defenses. The Sixers started the season by playing the worst defensive teams in the league, so their sub-par offense remained unexposed. But three of Philadelphia’s last five opponents have defenses in the league’s top ten, and the other two rank no lower than 18th. It’s not a surprise that over the last five games Philly is averaging just 83 points a game.
The 76ers’ Atlantic Division lead is all the way down to three games. With the Knicks surging and the Celtics still not out of the picture, the likelihood that Philadelphia can hang on and win the division is dwindling fast.
Three weeks ago you could sit court-side at MSG next to Spike Lee for about $800. Then Linsanity happened, J.R. Smith was signed, Baron Davis and Carmelo Anthony returned from injury and the Knicks won eight of 10. Now, sitting court-side at the Garden means being willing to shell out about 10 grand.
D’Antoni’s coaching seat was scorching less than thre weeks ago. If you fail with the Knicks it just about ruins your coaching career (ask Larry Brown). Jeremy Lin came along and not only saved the Knicks season, but may have also save Mike D’Antoni’s career. D’Antoni is highly unlikely to get fired this season and even if he gets fired after the season, now he’s likely to coach again.
DeMar DeRozan has found his shooting touch. Amir Johnson and Ed Davis are potential double-double threats, and Jared Bayless has had stretches of very good play this season. Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani have proven to be a pretty solid two-fifths of a starting lineup. If Toronto can flip a couple of their youngsters for a veteran or two and draft smart in June, the rebuilding process might not be as hopeless as advertised by the majority of the sports media.
Andrea Bargnani has been listed as having a ‘sore left calf’ for most of the season. Maybe it’s just me, but is a sore calf really something your best player misses 19 out of 33 games for? Either there’s something else wrong with Bargnani that the Raptors aren’t talking about, or Toronto is in full-on tank mode.
On paper and healthy, the Nets are a .500 team and they know it. Last week the Nets went into Chicago and MSG and came out with two big wins. Brook Lopez is back; Marshon Brooks is healthy; Deron Williams is playing out of his mind, and Kris Humphries is a double-double machine. This team still has a chance to finish in the 8-10 range in the Eastern conference, but will being a fringe playoff team be enough to convince Deron Williams to stick around?
Yeah, again. New Jersey has their starting line-up pretty much in-tact finally, but now they don’t have a bench. The first three players that our supposed to be coming off the Nets bench – Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and Jordan Farmar – are all expected to now miss considerable time. If the Nets are lucky the starters won’t re-injure themselves by playing too many minutes.
Tags: Andrea Bargnani, Avery Bradley, Baron Davis, Brook Lopez, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Jeremy Lin, Jose Calderon, Kevin Garnett, Kris Humphries, Mike D'Antoni, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Paul Pierce, Philadelphia 76ers, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Toronto Raptors