I love the ’80s! It was a decade that introduced us to cable TV, Don Johnson’s white-pants-with-no-socks look, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” jackets, and Madonna’s “Like a virgin” anthem. It was also a time when the Atlantic Division was the gold standard of the NBA.
The Atlantic featured Hall-of-Famers such as Larry Bird (Boston Celtics), Kevin McHale (Celtics), Dennis Johnson (Celtics), Julius Erving (Philadelphia 76ers), Moses Malone (76ers), and Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks). Another former New York icon, the great Bernard King, was featured prominently during the decade. And by the way, it is absolutely shameful he’s not in the Hall of Fame.
Fast forward to 2012 and the division — with a few new wrinkles here and there — is back to being the most hotly contested division in the Association, and there could very well be four teams from the Atlantic that make the playoffs.
The Celtics are still a dominant team, but they now have company. The Knicks have had a revival since the arrival of Carmelo Anthony. The Nets — who have ditched the Meadowlands Arena swamp for the swanky Barclays Center in Brooklyn — may have the best backcourt in the NBA in Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. The 76ers got a huge boost when they acquired former Lakers center Andrew Bynum, and even the Toronto Raptors are feeling good heading into season.
Boston has owned the Atlantic since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo in 2007. But all good things must come to an end at some point, and this could be the year the Celtics are knocked off their top perch.
OneManFastBreak.net predicts the order of finish in the Atlantic Division:
1-PHILADELPHIA 76ERS — Doug Collins took a young Philly squad last season and got them into the conference semifinals, losing to eventual NBA champion Miami. The Sixers revamped their squad during the offseason, sending Andre Iguodala to Denver and acquiring arguably the best center in the league in Bynum, whose mere presence changes the entire dynamic of the division. Philly fans will love Bynum from Day 1, and he’ll be surrounded by young talents such as Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, and Thaddeus Young. With Iguodala gone, Holiday now holds the key to the offense and he’ll have free reign to pull all the strings.
2-BOSTON CELTICS — They may be old and grumpy but the Celtics are still a serious contender in the Eastern Conference. Defense remains Boston’s calling card, and the team’s grind-it-out mentality will keep Gang Green in the playoff hunt. The Celtics got a big boost during the offseason when Jeff Green was medically cleared to play, and he has been superb during the preseason. Jason Terry may not have Ray Allen’s career resume, but the former Dallas Maverick is a very capable scorer and one of the best sixth men in the league.
3-BROOKLYN NETS — Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov made sure he wasn’t moving to Brooklyn without a headliner or two. He inked Williams to a long-term contract and then paid big money to bring in All-Star guard Joe Johnson. The key to the season hinges on the health of center Brook Lopez, who missed 61 games last year. If Lopez can regain his 2010-11 form when he averaged 20 points, the Nets will not only challenge for the division title but they will challenge for one of the top four spots in the East.
4-NEW YORK KNICKS — It is now or never for the Carmelo Anthony-Amare Stoudemire partnership. Stoudemire averaged his worst statistical season since 2005-06 when he had microfracture surgery. Just when Stoudemire was rounding into regular season shape, he had another setback in the preseason when he was diagnosed with a ruptured cyst in his left knee. This can be seen as a positive as ‘Melo can dominate the ball and won’t have to share the floor with Amare for a few weeks. But when Stoudemire returns, head coach Mike Woodson must find a way to keep both stars on the same page.
5-TORONTO RAPTORS — The Raptors may not be a playoff team, but the needle is pointing in the right direction. Over the years the Raptors have been devastated by defections, as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, and Chris Bosh all left Canada for greener pastures in the U.S. But the Raptors keep chugging along, and they will unveil their lastest European talent in 20-year-old Lithuanian star Jonas Valanciunas. Valanciunas is a classic back-to-the-basket, low-post center and should complement stretch forward Andrea Bargnani.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.