Monday, July 30, 2012

Atlantic Division Obstacles

Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. To attain a top seed in the 2013 playoffs the Knicks need to understand what they are up against in the Atlantic Division. The Celtics, Nets, Raptors, and 76ers stand in the NY Knicks way of taking the Atlantic Division and securing a top 4 seed in the NBA playoffs.  Instead of giving a predicted win-loss record from the recently released schedule that any blogger would pull out of their ass, I present to you a reasonable look at our hopes of locking up a top 4 playoff seed by securing the Atlantic Division.

We must first examine the reigning Atlantic Division champions, the Boston Celtics. Last season the Celtics all but completely dismissed the idea that the age has caught up to their core. Doc Rivers did an outstanding job guiding his team of veterans through constant ridicule and trade speculation. One of the strongest agreements that age won’t hinder the Celtics was the second half of their season and the playoffs. Paul Pierce continued to be the emotion charge that, combined with Kevin Garnett’s move to center and Rajon Rondo’s drive to prove his worth, pushed the Celtics past a spiraling 76ers team to the top of a mediocre regular season division. After going 15-17 into the All-Star break and shopping the self-proclaimed best point guard in the league, the aging Celtics proved their durability by finishing the season 39-27. More impressive yet, they advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals only to lose in 7 games to the 2012 NBA Champions, Miami Heat. Boston proved that age is just a number. Although they lost Ray Allen to the Heat in the offseason, picking up Jason Terry and Courtney Lee in free agency while drafting Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo will prove to cover that loss and add some. While as a New York fan I despise Boston in every regard, it would be ignorant not to regard the Celtics as the biggest hurdle for the Knicks to take the Atlantic Division title.

The team that held the honor of being #1 in our division for much of the shortened 2011-2012 season was the Philadelphia 76ers. They were great to start last season, acting as a mirror to the Indiana Pacers for their first. A solid 20-9 record a few games before the All-Star break almost inexplicably turned into a 35-31 record to end the season. Few things can explain this collapse, but I choose to believe that veteran teams found their stride late in the season to outsmart a 76ers team which relied mostly on athleticism. Losing Elton Brand and Lou Williams while picking up Nick Young and Kwame Brown seems to beg Sixers fans for a parallel movement grade, but I can’t even imagine being that kind. Kwame could never be the 18.07 PER that Brand has been, no matter what Michael Jordan thought back in '01 when he drafted Brown 1 overall. Philly will continue their season end spiral into next season, and if the Knicks can gel together a better record (as they should), the Sixers will once again finish 3rd in the Atlantic Division.

The Toronto Raptors finished second to last in this mediocre division last year with a team only Canada could love. Yet, the Knicks always seem to struggle against teams they should route. Yes New York took the series, but after losing the first early season meeting, the Knicks needed a Linsane buzzer beater to pull out a victory in game two. A lackluster team, with no stars shouldn’t have a much better record than last year (23-43). After failing to acquire the Canada’s basketball child, Steve Nash, they stole Landry Fields away from New York with a very lucrative contract (Nice kid, but not worth the money), traded for perennial under-achiever Kyle Lowry, and lost Bayless. I’d say their offseason was a wash, but the Knicks need to come to play even if it isn’t a game that analysts highlight to be a must-watch.

The Brooklyn team formerly known as the New Jersey Nets placed last in the Atlantic Division last season. JZ and his Russian billionaire buddy have moved their recently acquired team across the Hudson and into Brooklyn. I’m sure you’ve heard the hype by now. They are a top 4 team in the East, a stones throw away from dethroning the Celtics. My reaction to the Nets’ offseason wasn’t as glorified as all of the professional analysts, who I look up to and respect. I just really don’t see it. The contender talk started when talks for Dwight Howard were at a climax. And who’s to say Dwight wouldn’t have been scary in a new black and white Nets’ uniform? But those trade rumors have since been extinguished, and what sort of offseason moves have the Nets made to make a legitimate run? While they aren’t the New York team who let Linsanity walk to Texas, they didn’t make any stellar decisions in my mind. I give them credit for picking up C.J. Watson for a steal at barely above league minimum salary. Yes, they traded for an above average Joe Johnson who has been at his best highlighting above average teams that fail to make much noise in the playoffs. Heck, he couldn’t win with Amare and Nash. Why should he be considered amazing with Deron Williams? That said, the biggest move they made was bringing back the point guard, Deron Williams, who led them to a lousy record the past two seasons.  I think the Nets read the Isiah Thomas GM manual because they decided to not only re-sign, but ridiculously over pay Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, and Brook Lopez. All three are barely average NBA players at most who had bolstered numbers because they were on a crap team (I call it the Chris Duhon syndrome).  Somebody will have to explain to me how a team that goes 22-44 all of the sudden becomes a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference because they acquired one new (overpaid) starting SG to their line-up. A Williams, Johnson, Wallace, Humphries, Lopez line-up will be lucky to be top 4 in a 5 team Atlantic Division. I see the Nets giving their New York counterparts little friction in the 2012-2013 NBA season.

Before we look at a championship, we must focus on securing our division. Then we can look at conference, and after that, think about that pretty postseason trophy. For now, we can only hope that the Knicks will dethrone the Celtics and play serious against the other 3 teams in the Atlantic Division. If the Knicks can put get a serious run going and team cohesion under Mike Woodson, I would expect that we can conquer a previously superior Celtics team. If not, fans can only hope we will stay ahead of a merely athletic Sixers team.

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