Sixers vs Celtics: What Is at Stake in the Atlantic Division?

Professor BushCorrespondent IIIMarch 19, 2012

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 16:  Head coach Doug Collins of the Philadelphia 76ers yells during the game against the Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center on March 16, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Heat won 84-78. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers have lost three games in a row, allowing the Boston Celtics to narrow the Sixers' lead to 1.5 games in the Atlantic Division. Gone are the memories of the Sixers' quick 13-3 start. Now they find themselves in a tight race with the Celtics, as my article last month predicted they would be.

Neither team did anything major before the trade deadline to improve themselves. I don't see the addition of Sam Young having any meaningful impact on the Sixers.

The race will still likely come down to which team can survive the rigors of the condensed schedule during the last two weeks of the season. The Celtics have the clear advantage in experience. The Sixers have the clear advantage in youth.

In most years, I would go with the experience. But this year, I think that youth will prevail. When the Celtics played the Sixers on March 7, the Celtics looked really old. They were slow, they couldn't jump and Ray Allen looked like he was ready for the shower before the first quarter was over.

There is more than meets the eye at stake in this Atlantic Division race. If the Sixers win the division, they are assured no worse than a fourth seed. This should mean a first-round playoff series against the Pacers or Hawks and home-court advantage if they have a better record than the opponent. In either case, it should be a well-contested series and the Sixers would have a modest chance of advancing to the second round.

But, if the Sixers lose the Atlantic Division to the Celtics or even the Knicks, who are getting their act together under a new coach, there is an entirely different story. The Sixers could fall to a seventh or eighth seed. They would play either the Bulls or Heat and most likely be finished quickly. That would certainly be a disappointing end to a season that started off so surprisingly well.

This week, the Sixers have home games against both the Knicks and the Celtics. Win both of these and the Sixers might be back in the driver's seat. Otherwise, this will be a long, tough battle decided in the last week of the season.