During the first half of the Big Three era, the Atlantic Division was not much competition for the Boston Celtics, and winning the division was expected. But the last few seasons, as the Celtics have gotten older and injuries started taking a toll on the roster, teams like the Knicks and 76ers started to capitalize on their opportunity to try stealing the thrown.
The last two seasons, the Knicks have given the Celtics trouble, but were never able to get by them in the standings during the season, or eliminate them in the 2011 playoffs. New York will be a tough opponent this year, but there is a new bad boy on the block and he’s bringing a center from Los Angeles to the fight.
The Philadelphia 76ers, in my eyes, will be the team that is most likely going to be this year’s biggest rival to Boston in the division. These two teams and cities already have a long history when it comes to facing each other in sports, and this season’s 76ers team is going to add another chapter to the book. They’re young, have a lot to prove, and with Andrew Bynum they are a legitimate threat to the Celtics in the chase for the division title.
In last year’s playoffs, the 76ers took the Celtics to seven games, and throughout that series you could see Philadelphia get that type of arrogant swagger, and rightfully so. They weren’t expected to go far at all, and Boston was their own worst enemy when they didn’t put the inexperienced team away earlier in the series.
I think this year, the 76ers are going to feed off of that. They were one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals, and even though they lost Andre Igoudala and Lou Williams, they still have the pieces to get themselves deep into the playoffs. Who knows, we may see this team again. If they can build up good chemistry, they will no doubt have a higher seed than last year. It just comes down to small things like how the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers do throughout the season.
When it comes to the regular season, the 76ers are going to be there the entire year, shadowing the Celtics. There may be a time when they grab the division lead from Boston this season, but I still think their time of taking over the Atlantic is a year or two away. They’re still missing a scoring threat who can hit shots from the perimeter and score 25-30 points a night.
The bottom line, Philadelphia is going to be tough. They’re not going to back down or get intimidated by Boston. The run for the division title is going to be entertaining. Add the New York Knicks in there and you’ve got one heck of a race for first in the Atlantic.