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The Atlantic, Week 6: Rondo, Lin and the Nets’ Trainers

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We’re nearly halfway through the season in ‘The Atlantic’, Sports of Boston’s weekly ‘trending up’ and ‘trending down’ of the news from the NBA’s Atlantic division.

Can Rajon Rondo‘s hot play get the Celtics offense back on track? Do the 76ers have one of the worst starting backcourts in the NBA? What does Brook Lopez‘s return mean for the Nets? Lots of questions this week in the Atlantic.

Boston Celtics (15-14, 2nd place)

Trending Up: Rajon Rondo

Rondo is averaging 26 points, 10 assist, seven rebounds, and two steals over his last three games. Whether or not Rondo’s upset that he wasn’t named to the All-Star Team, you can’t ignore that he seems to be playing for the MVP award right now.

Trending Down: Points per game

Do you think the Celtics know they averaged under 85 points per game this week? Or that they’ve scored the fourth-least total points this season in the NBA? Do they even care? The Celtics are allowing just 87 points per game this season, meaning they’re minus-2 this week. That would explain the 1-4 skid.

Philadelphia 76ers (20-11, 1st Place)

Trending Up: Cold Hard Truth

I really like the Sixers this year- they play tough defense, they move the ball and they rebound. If not for Miami and Derrick Rose, Philadelphia would have a fighting chance to sneak out of the Eastern conference and make the Finals. The Sixers remind me bit of the 2004 Pistons, but lack a crunch time, clutch threat like Chauncey Billups was. Unless the Sixers can swing a trade for a clutch scorer, the city of brotherly love is going to have to love the 76ers for what they are: Miami and Chicago’s third wheel.

Trending Down: Starting Backcourt

The Sixers’ versatility and depth are strengths, but their starting backcourt certainly isn’t. Jrue Holliday has missed 16 of his last 17 shots and hasn’t been making up for scoring woes with assists or rebounds. Jodie Meeks has made just six of his last 22, averaging fewer than three rebounds and a single assist per game. It’s amazing how well the 76ers have started this season with what has to be the most inconsistent starting backcourt in the league.

New York Knicks (15-16, 3rd place)

Trending Up: Depth

The Knicks added J.R. Smith this week and expect Carmelo Anthony to start playing again in the next week.  Add Baron Davis (who may return eventually) to the mix and the Knicks are looking like one of the deepest and most athletic teams in the Eastern Conference. Jeremy Lin  has not only given the Knicks hope this season, but he’s also helped make their bench longer. The Knicks could do a lot worse at the 12th man position than Toney Douglas. There’s still time for D’Antoni to make this roster work.

Trending Down: Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony is an incredible talent in that he can get his shot off over anybody, but you can’t ignore that the Knicks became competitive when they became Lin’s team. Anthony is at the same place in his career that Paul Pierce was right before Danny Ainge put the Big Three together. Anthony, like Pierce, can decide to buy into the team system that is working for the Knicks, or he can insist on a certain number of touches, hold the ball and cause problems. Paul Pierce silenced questions about his leadership capabilities: can Anthony silence his?

Toronto Raptors (9-23, 4th place)

Trending Up: Jose Calderon

I jumped on Calderon too hard last week when I said he’d given up. Calderon is averaging 20 points and 10 assists in his last five games. If the East All-Stars end up having to replace Derrick Rose because of injury, David Stern might want to chose Calderon over Rondo or Brandon Jennings. Calderon hasn’t given up even though he plays for the Raptors.

Trending Down: Embarrassing Play

Last week the Raptors lost by seven to San Antonio, three to New York and two to the Lakers. A week ago they beat the Celtics by 12. It’s been a ‘moral victory’ kind of week for the Raptors.

New Jersey Nets (8-23, 5th place)

Trending Up: Brook Lopez’s Return

It’s been a tumultuous season for the Nets, but Lopez might be coming back in the nick of time, returning to play Sunday night against Milwaukee. With the trade deadline approaching, the Nets might have just enough time to convince teams (Orlando) that Lopez can be the cornerstone of a franchise.

Trending Down: Training Staff

Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Marshon Brooks, Anthony Morrow, Kris Humphries, Shawne Williams, Jordan Farmar and Sudiata Gaines have all missed significant time with injuries this season. Keith Bogans signed on late and played five5 games before fracturing his ankle. If you’re trying to build a world-class franchise, you might want to have a training staff that has your team ready for physical contact.

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