Twenty games into the 2013-14 NBA season and the Boston Celtics are leading the Atlantic Division. No typos, tricks or mistakes, you can read that again. The Celtics, a team without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, that hired a rookie head coach and traded away two franchise legends, have found a way to lead their division a quarter of a way through the season. While the Celtics have been far from an elite team with an 8-12 record, the fact remains that their standing at this early stage can only be viewed as a positive sign both for this season and for the future of the team. Let’s take a look at the main factors contributing to the Celtics’ early lead in the Atlantic.
The East Is Bad, The Atlantic Is Worse
Bad is an understatement, and terrible may even be an understatement at this stage of the season for the state of the Eastern Conference as a whole. With just four teams sitting at or over .500 at this point in the season, the entire conference is looking down the barrel of a historically bad performance and the disparity between East and West has never been greater. The Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat are obviously among the elite title contenders league-wide, but they are the only two teams with a winning record. The Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks are the next best teams in the East but both sit at just an even .500. There are a number of teams obviously tanking for the stacked 2014 draft, others hugely underachieving and the Chicago Bulls have once again been dealt a blow with Derrick Rose out for the season. Seven of the Celtics’ eight victories have come against Eastern Conference teams.
The Atlantic Division is even more of a train-wreck. In fact, the current standings appear to be the exact opposite of what many were predicting in the pre-season. The New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets, who were seen to be top four contenders in the conference have just nine wins between them and have looked abysmal in the early going, sitting at the bottom of the division. The Toronto Raptors are at just 6-11 after having playoff aspirations and the closest competition to the Celtics in the early going are the Philadelphia 76ers, who many expected to be among the worst teams in the league but have been a pleasant surprise thus far. Both Brooklyn and New York have both been affected by injury and you would expect them to improve as the season goes on, but the signs have not been good.