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Observation Deck

The Atlantic at a loss, a sensible Carter deal and more

Posted: Tuesday January 9, 2007 2:43PM; Updated: Tuesday January 9, 2007 3:14PM
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Vince Carter and the Nets still have a decent chance to repeat as Atlantic Division champs despite a 14-19 start.
Vince Carter and the Nets still have a decent chance to repeat as Atlantic Division champs despite a 14-19 start.
Anyone's Ballgame
Atlantic Division standings through Jan. 8
Team Record GB
Toronto Raptors 15-19 --
New Jersey Nets 14-19 .5
New York Knicks 15-21 1
Boston Celtics 12-21 2.5
Philadelphia 76ers 9-24 5.5
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This week's dually laughable/lachrymose take on the Atlantic Division comes from Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who recently talked about that "amazing [all five teams under .500] division" with the Boston Herald.

"If you have three or four days off," Rivers pointed out, "you probably move up to first place. The key in our division is not playing right now. That's almost how you feel. Toronto had four days off and moved up to first place."

The sickest part about this Atlantic race lies in the idea that some of these teams may want nothing to do with winning the division, and the playoff berth that results. Toronto's on top right now, but it's making a point to go with a youth movement, and probably wouldn't mind another lottery selection. Boston would love two home playoff games and the requisite revenue burst, but its fan base has been easing toward the "tank the season" side of things since Paul Pierce hit the injured list two weeks ago. The Knicks would regard a division title as a panacea; owner James Dolan is just clueless enough to regard it as a step in the right direction (thus saving Isiah Thomas' job), and it would deny Chicago a second straight lottery pick as a result of the Eddy Curry trade. But after watching Thomas' coaching work down the stretch of seasons from 2000-2003 in Indiana, Knicks fans might want to hold off on securing playoff tickets.

The Nets are another curious case. They overachieved last year, working around their abject lack of interior scoring and Jason Kidd's off year with sound play from the wings. But Vince Carter has fallen off the radar over the last month, Richard Jefferson hasn't looked healthy all season and even with Kidd returning to form, it hasn't been enough to mask a pitiful bench. The good news? Coach Lawrence Frank has decided to hand minutes to the guys who deserve the run (Mikki Moore, Hassan Adams), he's finally given up on expecting to win with guys like Jason Collins and Antoine Wright playing extended minutes, and the defense should improve from here on out. The bad news? Kidd's dodgy back is starting to act up.

And the 76ers? All they have to do is lay low for the next four months to have a chance at Greg Oden, and they can't even tank correctly. They continue to employ 30-year-old Andre Miller, who is alternately clogging their cap and costing them lottery balls with his solid play, and can't be bothered to move him along to a contender for either expiring contracts and/or more lower-rung first-round picks. Seems fitting.

The worst part? One of these teams is going to waste our time in the spring. One of these squads is going to be forced down our gullets and given a playoff berth, and none of them deserves it. We've heard that these sorts of peaks and valleys in the relative strength of particular divisions are supposed to be cyclical and arbitrary, but this has gone on for too long, with no sign of letting up. It's an incredible coincidence that two of the NBA's worst GMs, Thomas and Philadelphia's Billy King, are stuck in the same division, coupled with the fact that four of these teams (excluding the Raptors) are playing without a singular sense of who they are. But that doesn't mean the league should pass on doing something about it.

If the NBA is truly a global playground, and David Stern thinks enough of cable TV (and not the local handlers) to have most of his playoff schedule run through a coaxial cable, then the idea that the league should be worried about turning off an entire geographic region of the United States (like, say, the Northeast) by not allowing it a playoff team seems preposterous. If no team is good enough to make it into the top of eight of a clearly inferior conference like the East, then there is no point in devaluing the quality of play just to give an Atlantic team the chance to be swept by the Wizards or Bulls in late April.


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