The NBA regular season is nearing a finish and with that, a clear pecking order is starting to show in the Atlantic Division. But, with three teams sure to appear in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Atlantic Division has plenty of story lines. To flesh some of those out, we're hitting you with a Sunday roundtable, but because this topic is so important we're shifting from our normal three-man crew to four. Boom.
1. Fill in the blank: _________ will win the Atlantic Division?
- Justin DeFeo: The Knicks - I think the Nets have a slightly softer schedule than the Knicks to end the season, but with a four game cushion, I'd expect the Knicks to cling to their lead and wrap up the Atlantic Division for the first time in nearly 20 years. By the way, Nets fans should lose no sleep over the Division title, but whats more important here is avoiding Miami in Round Two.
- Andrew Gnerre: The Knicks. The Nets are 4 games back with nine to play. The Knicks schedule is much tougher (eight of their 11 remaining games are against playoff teams), but that's just a lot of ground to make up on a team that's won seven straight and looking more like that group from November. And good for them. I'd hate to see them go 20 years without a division title. Unrelated, the Nets have won the division four times since 2002. Oh I'm sorry, did I say "unrelated?" I meant to say "very related and SHOTS FIRED."
- Max Weisberg: Knicks. You can blame this on the Nets’ inability to “finish the deal” as well as the Utah Jazz organization. Multiple times were the Nets a half game back of the Knicks in March, and each time, things didn’t pan out. 3/17, the Nets trailed the Knicks by a half game and couldn’t beat the team from Atlanta that unloaded Joe Johnson on them in a salary dump this summer. 3/18, a helpless Jazz team who at the time, was a half game back of the Lakers for the 8th spot, couldn’t beat a severely depleted Knicks team IN UTAH.
- Benjamin Nadeau: The New York Knicks will win the Atlantic Division. There's just too much that needs to happen at this point for the Nets to take the crown. It would probably involve rushing back Joe Johnson before he's healthy too. It would really be nice to move up to 2nd or 3rd, to avoid Miami as long as possible, but I'm not really sure if PJ is the type of coach that will concern himself with the Atlantic Title. There's just far too much inconsistancy here from the Nets to catch the Knicks now.
2. The most dangerous team in the Atlantic Division in the playoffs is ________.
- DeFeo: Again, its the Knicks. Tyson Chandler has a chance of being the most dominant defensive player and Carmelo Anthony the most dominant offensive player in any given series, including one with Lebron James in it and that should scare any team. Also, their three-point happy attack adds a bit of variance to every game.
- Gnerre: Just like, physically? The Celtics because Kevin Garnett is an unhinged maniac. But in terms of winning games? The Nets. I know that when hot, the Knicks have looked better this season, but it's close enough to the playoffs for me to flip the switch to full-blown irrational fan mode. Vintage Deron, Breakout Brook and Healthy Joe haven't all showed up to the same game yet, but they could. And that's a better team than Melo going nova surrounded by JR Smith and old guys. Speaking of old guys: Et tu, Kenyon?
- Weisberg: Highest seed. Going into the playoffs, I believe that the Nets will be a better team than the Knicks. Unfortunately for Brooklyn though, they are currently sitting 3.5 games (assuming Knicks win tonight, Nets lose tonight) back of NY in the standings with 9 games to play. What this means is that they will likely get the four seed. And if they advance past the first round, they would have to play a team in the second round that just won 27 games in a row and are the defending world champions. Goodnight Brooklyn.
- Nadeau: The Brooklyn Nets are easily the most dangerous team. It seems, at times, that the Knicks' season is unraveling more and more by the day, if it wasn't for a surging J.R. Smith, the Nets might have the division lead right now.If the Knicks can get all their pieces back and healthy, it could be a different story, but Felton has been garbage lately and any team that starts Kenyon Martin at this point has more issues than the team that starts Reggie Evans. Nets, somehow, play better team ball and that will benefit them in the playoffs.
3. T/F: An Atlantic Division team has any shot to beat Miami.
- DeFeo: False. The Nets have not been competitive with the Heat since The Decision and although the Celtics and Knicks could pose a threat, no team in the East can win four out of seven.
- Gnerre: False. Very false. If I knew any other languages I'd be saying the word "false" in those languages right now to drive the point home. The only team in the league with a chance to beat the Heat is the Spurs, no matter what that elderly man on the bus back to Jersey from the Nets-Grizzlies game says. (That guy thinks the Pacers can beat the Heat; that guy thinks so many things.) But yeah, this is false. Very falska.
- Weisberg: Only true if ALL of these things occur before the playoffs; First, LeBron James will have to abruptly retire and announce that he is going to attempt a career in professional baseball. Second, an asbestos leak must occur inside American Airlines Arena, thus forcing the Heat to play all four of their “home” games inside their opponent’s arena. Third, Chris Bosh must get so upset from the first and second events occurring, that he goes and punches a fire extinguisher and is forced to miss the entire series. So yes, it is possible.
- Nadeau: False. It's tough, as a fan and somebody that spends so much time caring about this team, it's always hard to take off your homer glasses sometimes. But this one is easy, there's really nobody in the Eastern Conference in Miami's league this season. I think there's something to be said about the way Chicago played and rattled them last week (hard, physical fouls, refusing to let them get dunks, transition points at any cost) and if other Eastern Conference teams adopt that strategy, they could steal one or two. The problem is winning four. I don't think anybody is beating Miami this year, unfortunately, and it's possible that only San Antonio can take them from the West.