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The Atlantic, Week 1

(UPI/John Angelillo)

Welcome to “The Atlantic,” a new weekly column where we ‘trend up’ and ‘trend down’ news and notes from the NBA’s Atlantic Division.

The New York metropolitan area has the stars it wanted. The Boston Celtics look to make one more run at an NBA title. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors hope to claw their way to playoff berths. All in all it looks to be a fiercely competitive year in the Atlantic.

Boston Celtics

(4-3, Tied for first place)

Trending Up: Greg Stiemsma

The 6’11” rookie is becoming a folk hero of sorts in Boston sports lore. Stiemsma is currently in front of Dwight Howard in blocked shots, and second only to DeAndre Jordan. Stiemsma got the start for sore Jermaine O’Neal on Monday and responded with 13 points and 7 rebounds. Stronger players are going to push Steimsma around, but the center’s timing and shooting touch make the Celtics’ frontcourt depth a little less worrisome than anticipated.

Trending Down: Back-court Depth

While Steimsma has helped shore up the Celtics’ front-court this season, there has yet to be anyone to step up in the back-court. Keyon Dooling has proven that he has a solid outside touch, but not that he can run an offense. Avery Bradley can hound the ball-handler on defense, but can he score consistently? Marquis Daniels appears to be a shadow of his former self. E’Twaun Moore and Sasha Pavlovic shouldn’t set foot on an NBA court unless the game has long since been decided. Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen are playing great, and the Celtics hope that when Mickael Pietrus returns from injury the rotation can be set. But I’m skeptical about that.

Philadelphia 76ers

(3-2, Tied for first place)

Trending Up: Point Differential

 The 76ers are 3rd in the league in point differential (behind Chicago and Miami) at +9.8 . What does this mean? It means that Philadelphia’s close losses to Portland and Utah are likely to translate to close wins as the season progresses. Philadelphia’s point differential should be a concern to the Celtics and the rest of the Eastern Conference. Doug Collins’ team is for real.

Trending Down: The youth movement

Entering this season, analysts thought Philadelphia would only go as far as the development of Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Jodie Meeks could take them. So far, this just hasn’t been the case. Turner and Holiday have been inconsistent at best, and Meeks has been a step above unwatchable. Last year, Meeks emerged as the Sixers starting shooting guard, averaging nearly 43 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. This year Meeks, is averaging a miserable 33 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

Toronto Raptors

(3-3, Third place)

Trending Up: Staying Competetive

Many expected the Toronto Raptors to be one of the worst teams in the entire league. With victories over New York and Cleveland and narrow loses to Indiana and Orlando, the Raptors look competitive this year. A healthy and re-energized Jose Calderon has the Raptors sharing the ball and shooting a decent percentage from the field.

Trending Down: Chances to land their next star

The double-edged sword of staying competitive is that the Raptors are hurting their chances to land one of the top players in the 2012 NBA draft – something the Raptors desperately need. Since being shunned by Chris Bosh, the Raptors have had trouble putting fans in the seats. Toronto’s roster is comprised entirely of solid rotation players, but that means they probably won’t finish better than seventh in the conference or worse than 11th. The Raptors need to be drafting in the 1-5 range this summer, not the 9-16 range.

New York Knicks

(2-4, Fourth place)

Trending Up: Losing

This is the team that is supposed to challenge the Celtics for the Atlantic division title, right? After narrowly beating the Celtics on Christmas Day, the Knicks have gone 1-4. The Knicks’ most recent losses, at home to Toronto and Charlotte, are unacceptable for a supposed playoff team.

Trending Down: Offense

While the Knicks have improved to be an average defensive team with Tyson Chandler aboard, it is surprising that they are an average offensive one as well. Last year the Knicks posted the second-ranked offense in the league; this year they have dropped all the way back to 20th. A minor injury to Amare Stoudamire has exposed the Knicks’ abject lack of depth. Barring serious injury, the Knicks appear to be an average team. Should a serious injury arise…

New Jersey Nets

(1-5, Fifth place)

Trending Up: Injuries

Brook Lopez is out with a broken foot. Kris Humphries is out with a sprained shoulder, and Deron Williams is nursing bruised ribs. With three of their five starters looking on from the bench, the Nets will rely on rookie Marshon Brooks to carry the load. The Nets are going to lose games.

Trending Down: Likelihood Deron Williams will resign

To convince Deron Williams to move to Brooklyn with them and sign on long-term, the Nets need to prove they can be competitive. Every loss makes the odds of keeping Williams with the franchise lower. I would set the likelihood Williams re-signs with the Nets at about 80 percent right now. If the Nets are still in last place at the All-Star Break, it drops to about 50 percent. If the Nets finish the season in last place, I think the All-star point guard is gone.

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