Now that the basketball season is coming to a close, possibly the largest postseason question left unanswered is the Atlantic Division. The Celtics and Sixers are tied for first, while the Knicks are 2.5 games behind. The Sixers started strongly and have trailed off, but truthfully they deserve credit for staying relevant with a team that only sent one player to the All-Star game. Doug Collins has worked his team into a defensive juggernaut that ranks first in opponents’ points per game. The Celtics are third in those rankings, but average a meager 91 points per game. New York, whose recent defense has put them in the 12th spot for opponents points per game, is averaging a higher point differential than the Celtics.
What does all of these defense statistics mean? It means that Philly has put together the best combination of offense and defense of all the Atlantic teams, yet the Celtics and Knicks have found ways to stay competitive in a division that looked lost a couple months ago.
What’s at stake? Home court advantage and the blessed fortune of not having to face the Heat or Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Essentially, it means your playoff life. If the season ended today, the Knicks would play the Bulls, the Celtics would play the Heat, and the Sixers would play the Pacers. Ratings gold for TNT and ESPN.
Both New York and Boston are the quintessential “dangerous” postseason teams. The Knicks have a starting lineup with a star at every position except shooting guard, and even more threatening is their depth. The Celtics are the wily veterans who know what it’s like to win a championship and know how to beat good teams. The truth is though, that it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whoever wins the division deserves the home court and will probably win their opening series, and the other two teams might make entertaining storylines. A hesitant finish to the regular season would show the same true colors that will be brightly displayed verse the powerhouses Heat and Bulls.