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The Atlantic, Week 5: Paul Pierce and a Recent Harvard Grad Trending Up

The plan in New York isn't going exactly how the Knicks imagined. (Kathy Willens/AP)

Prepare for yet another installment of “The Atlantic,” Sports of Boston’s weekly look at who’s ‘trending up’ and ‘trending down’ in the NBA’s Atlantic Division!

Paul Pierce is the hottest player in the Atlantic division, but do the Knicks have a new star? And are the Sixers on the brink of being considered a contender? It may not be as competitive as the Northwest, but there’s still plenty of drama in the Atlantic.

Boston Celtics (14-10, 2nd place)

Trending Up: Paul Pierce

Pierce is unstoppable right now, earning Eastern Conference player of the week honors Monday passing Larry Bird to become second all-time in Celtics’ scoring Tuesday. The Celtics turned their season around when Pierce got it together. If Pierce can maintain this level for the remainder of the season and the playoffs, there isn’t a team the Celtics can’t beat and nothing they can’t accomplish (hint hint).

Trending Down: Opponents points per game

Following their 94-84 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, the Celtics now lead the league in points allowed per game at 86.5. That’s four points better than the championship ’08 Celtics. Boston hasn’t given up 100 points in a game since giving up 115 to Miami in the second game of the season. In the last eight NBA seasons, no team has allowed fewer points per game than these Celtics. The Celtics’ offense is still at par or below, but it shouldn’t matter if their defense is historically good.

Philadelphia 76ers (18-7, 1st Place)

Trending Up: Quality wins

Wins over the Bulls, Lakers and Hawks look a lot better for the 76ers than wins over the Wizards and Pistons. Philadelphia’s strength of schedule is getting better and will keep getting better. The 76ers are really good, yet it remains to be seen whether they are ‘contender’ good or not.

Trending Down: Consistency

Beating Chicago by 16 looks good, but losing to Miami by 20 (twice) and losing to New Jersey in overtime looks equally bad. If the Sixers hope to contend for the 2012 NBA title, they have to bring their best effort every night. Right now, I’m not seeing that.

New York Knicks (10-15, 3rd place)

Trending Up: Lin-sanity

Jeremy Lin has become the talk of the town in New York, especially after scoring 28 points and dishing out eight assists without Amare Stoudamire and Carmelo Anthony Monday against the Jazz. With Baron Davis’ status still unclear and Toney Douglass and Mike Bibby proving incapable, Lin has quickly become the key to salvaging the Knicks’ 2012 season. New York is 2-0 with Lin as its starting point guard. Go Harvard!

Trending Down: The Plan

Lin and Steve Novak are leading the Knicks to victories…wait…read that sentence again. The Knicks’ stars and key bench players were struggling to get victories, so they’ve turned to their scrubs. Mike D’Antoni finally deserves some credit for trying anything and everything to win and keep his job. The Celtics and Heat laid the blueprint for putting together ‘Big Threes’, but that doesn’t mean any three stars can be a ‘Big Three’.

New Jersey Nets (8-18, Tied for 5th place)

Trending Up: Close Losses

The Nets could be 3-1 in their last four instead of 1-3. A couple of Deron Williams turnovers at the end of the Minnesota game and a couple of missed shots against the Knicks have doomed the Nets. To compete with Cleveland, Milwaukee and New York for the last playoff spot in the East, New Jersey has to win the close ones.

Trending Down: Optimism

The Nets were in the playoff picture; now they’re out of it. Mediocre Eastern Conference teams have pinballed between optimism one moment and pessimism another; right now the Nets are in a pretty deep pit of pessimism.

Toronto Raptors (8-18, Tied for 5th place)

Trending Up: Linas Kleiza

The Raptors desperately needed Kleiza (or anyone really) to give their offense a boost with Andrea Bargnani out. Kleiza is averaging 20 points per game after recording a DNP in last week’s throttling by the Celtics. Kleiza can’t do enough to salvage the Raptors season as long as Bargnani is out, but he can help them avoid getting embarrassed on a nightly basis if he keeps performing at a high level.

Trending Down: Jose Calderon

Calderon started the season looking like an All-Star candidate but has since cooled way off, averaging just five points in his last five games. With his sidekick Bargnani sidelined and Raptors management scouting for the draft, you can’t blame Calderon for mailing it in. Conclusion: The Raptors are bad and Calderon has given up.

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