Boston Celtics: Are the Celtics Still the Best in the Atlantic Division?

Nikhil BaradwajSenior Analyst IDecember 10, 2012

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 8: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics calls out to his teammates against the Philadelphia 76ers during the game on December 8, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Through 20 games, the Boston Celtics stand at 11-9, sitting in third place in the loaded Atlantic Division. Outside of Toronto, the other four teams are above .500 and all look to be playoff teams.

While Boston will undoubtedly make the playoffs, will they win the Atlantic Division?

The answer might be an unwelcome one for Celtics fans.

Boston stands at 2-4 in divisional play, losing both games to the Nets and two out of three to the 76ers. In addition, the Celtics have been suspect on defense, giving up 96.7 points per game.

As of right now, I would say that the Celtics are the second-best team in the Atlantic behind the Knicks, with the Nets and the 76ers close behind.

Rajon Rondo did not factor into the first game against Brooklyn due to injury and was ejected in the second game after an altercation with Kris Humphries. Boston does match up well with the 76ers, especially when stretch-4 Jeff Green gets better acclimated with the offense.

However, it is hard to put the Celtics above the Knicks after New York's torrid start. New York has beaten Miami twice, San Antonio on the road and Philadelphia twice all without Amar'e Stoudemire in the lineup.

If Coach Mike Woodson is able integrate Stoudemire into his proper role (sixth man), look for the Knicks to win at least 50 games this season and be a major contender for an Eastern Conference title.

Boston will definitely improve as the season continues, as the many new parts on the roster gets used to playing together. The Celtics have proven to be a second-half team for the last few years, thriving in March and April.

Yet, it seems like the East has become better as a whole. Making it back to the Eastern Conference Finals will be far more challenging than it was last year, especially with the impending returns of Derrick Rose, Danny Granger and Andrew Bynum.