The Atlantic Division, throughout NBA history, has always been a tough and entertaining division. From the 1960′s with Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain, to the early 1980′s when the Celtics had to go through Dr. J and the 76ers to make it to the NBA Finals, to the 2000′s when superstars like Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, and Jason Kidd ruled the division.
Its only been within the last five to six years, since the Celtics got the Big Three, that competition somewhat dwindled. But this year, the other teams in the Atlantic retooled and they’re going to be gunning for Boston.
With the 76ers acquiring Andrew Bynum, the Nets getting Joe Johnson and building a team around Deron Williams, the Knicks stealing Jason Kidd away from Dallas, and the Toronto Raptors improving their team by trading for Kyle Lowry, this year’s Atlantic Division is stacking up to be very tough.
Division Standings and Predictions
2011-2012 record: 39-27
Lost to the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Prediction: 2012-2013 record: 53-29
Starters: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, and Kevin Garnett
Sixth Man: Jason Terry
The Celtics have somehow found a way to keep themselves a championship contender this season with the acquisitions of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, and the re-signings of Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and Chris Wilcox.
The Celtics have a good combination of youth and experience which will help them later on in the season when the veteran’s legs are starting to wear down. While I see them winning the division, I don’t see this year’s Celtics team winning 60 or more games in the regular season. They haven’t done that since 2009 when they went 62-20. For the time being, I don’t see them reaching that mark, as the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference have improved throughout the last few years.
If the Celtics can remain healthy throughout the season, they’ll have a good shot at making it back to the Finals. The only team standing in their way is the Miami Heat. The same team they took to seven games without Avery Bradley, Chris Wilcox, and Jeff Green. The consensus from Celtics fans is that if those players had stayed healthy it would have been a return to the NBA Finals.
2011-2012 record: 35-31
Lost in Game 7 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
Prediction: 2012-2013 record: 50-32
Starters: Jrue Holiday, Jason Richardson, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, and Andrew Bynum
Sixth Man: Thaddeus Young
The 76ers are going to be Boston’s biggest threat and probably the old rivalry these two teams shared will be renewed. Philadelphia will have a great front court with Bynum at center and Spencer Hawes at power forward. They added Nick Young and Jason Richardson who can give the 76ers some veteran experience, and they were able to maintain their young nucleus.
Moving forward throughout this season, Philadelphia will have to find that player who can put up 20-25 points a game from the perimeter. They have capable scorers in Evan Turner and Thaddeus Young, but outside scoring will have to be something for them to improve on.
I have the 76ers in second place behind the Celtics in the division. They’re going to be an extremely tough opponent because they pose an inside threat and they shouldn’t have a hard time rebounding. Their front line is the key to their success. If Bynum and Hawes are firing on all cylinders, they are going to win a lot of games this season.
New York Knicks
2011-2012 record: 36-30
Lost in 5 games to the Miami Heat in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Prediction: 2012-2013 record: 48-34
Starters: Raymond Felton, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson Chandler
Sixth Man: Jason Kidd
This may be the year the Knicks finally get over that hump and go deeper into the playoffs. They have the talent level and the depth to do it. Adding Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, and Ronnie Brewer, the Knicks finally have a decent supporting cast. They also have two All-Stars with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. If those guys can set aside their egos, this team will go far this season. The only reason they’ve had trouble the last year and a half is because it was all about themselves as individuals instead of the team.
With Mike Woodson taking the helm, the Knicks also have a better coach to lead them. Woodson did a terrific job in Atlanta and he is a proven coach. Maybe thats their key to success, being led by a coach who can control his players and keep them in check.
The Knicks are capable of challenging the Celtics for the division, the only thing that stands in their way is themselves. If Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire can play together without taking away anything from their own games, the Knicks front court will be a force to be reckoned with. They have the scoring power to get past the 76ers and give the Celtics trouble. Their success is going to be dependent on how they gel. It’s crazy to say that since they’ve been together for almost two seasons, but they’ve never been able to form great chemistry since this current team has been assembled.
2011-2012 record: 22-44
Finished last in the Atlantic Division
Prediction: 2012-2013 record: 45-37
Starters: Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez
Sixth Man: MarShon Brooks
The Nets have a good starting lineup with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace. Those three players will have to carry most of the load this season though. On paper their starting five can contend with most teams in the NBA, but it’s their lack of depth that will cause problems for them as the season wears on. They don’t have a backup center to Brook Lopez, and they are very thin at the power forward position. Facing teams like the 76ers may be a problem for them.
The Nets however have one of the best point guards in the game, and with the acquisition of Joe Johnson, Brooklyn’s back court is going to be good. If Gerald Wallace can elevate his game, they’ll be even better.
I see Brooklyn coming in fourth in the Atlantic. They’ll make the playoffs, but the second round is probably as far as they’ll go. If they can make a few mid-season trades and bolster up their bench, then they may be a legitimate threat in the division. Their time will come. Next offseason has some very good free agents, and if they can build around their nucleus, the day may come when they fight for the top in the Atlantic, like they did a decade ago.
2011-2012 record: 23-43
Finished 4th in the Atlantic Division
Prediction: 2012-2013 record: 39-43
Starters: Kyle Lowry, Terrance Ross, DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, and Jonas Valanciunas
Sixth Man: Landry Fields
The Toronto Raptors have one of the hardest roads to take if they want to get to the playoffs this year. To achieve this goal, they’ll have to go through four teams who are deeper and more talented. With the young draft picks they acquired in this year’s draft, and trading for Kyle Lowry, Toronto is finally starting to move forward. They have a nice but thin front court of Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas.
The Raptors are still in a rebuilding period, but I see some promise, and Toronto fans should start to see the light at the end of the tunnel soon. They are still a few years away, and if they can add a veteran who can score and lead this team, they could have a shot at making the playoffs.
Sometime in the near or distant future, the Raptors need to find their next Vince Carter or Chris Bosh. They need that player who can create buzz and revive a franchise that had success a decade ago. With the players they have added to the roster, they are definitely heading in the right direction.
Outlook On This Season and Years to Come
This year’s division race is going to be worth watching. I know for myself, I’ll be paying more attention to games involving teams in the Atlantic division than I have in the past.
I think the Celtics will head into the playoffs as the division winners, but they’re going to have to fight for every inch and win this season. They can’t coast or decide to turn the switch on when the time seems right, they’ll have to be locked in at all times.
The team that will be most surprising this season will be the Philadelphia 76ers. They could pass the Celtics in the standings if they play their best all season. They’re young, athletic, and experienced which is a deadly combination.
The team that might disappoint this season is the New York Knicks. They’ve done it before, and last season they played better when they weren’t at full strength. Like I said, it’s up to them. If they decide to gel and play team basketball they’ll be really good. But, if any one of them starts going after individual goals the Knicks will go nowhere.
In the upcoming seasons, I’d keep my eye on the 76ers and Nets. These two teams are on the verge of taking over the division. If Brooklyn can build a deeper roster, we may have the same type of division races like we had in the early 2000′s.
One thing is for sure, the Atlantic Division is no longer weak. If you’re an opposing team from the Eastern or Western Conferences, you may not find many victories when you come and visit the east coast.