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Christmas presents: Handing out grades for the Atlantic Division

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The Brooklyn Nets and the New York Knicks demonstrated on Dec. 25, just how bad the Atlantic Division is in 2013-14. The Nets and Knicks were expected to be the cream of the crop of the division but both are having nightmarish seasons.

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Brooklyn (9-19) opened up Christmas Day with a 95-78 loss at home to the Chicago Bulls. The loss is the Nets fourth straight and they are 4-6 in their last 10.

In the game against Chicago, the Nets were hanging tough until Jimmy Butler keyed a 21-5 run to put the Bulls in control 71-54 late in the third period. Brooklyn went 5 ½ minutes without a field goal as Chicago led by 19 at the end of the third stanza.

Taj Gibson tallied 20 points to lead six Bulls in double figures.

Deron Williams scored 18 points, on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor, and dished out four assists. Mirza Telelovic added 17 points and Joe Johnson chipped in with 12 points.

The New York's horrendous season got worse on Christmas Day. The Knicks, playing without Carmelo Anthony, suffered the worst loss for a home team on Christmas as they fell to the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-94. Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 29 points and Russell Westbrook recorded a triple-double by the middle of the third quarter. Westbrook finished 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

Amar’e Stoudemire and Tim Hardaway came off the Knicks’ bench to score 22 and 21 points, respectively. J.R. Smith was the only starter in double-figures with 20 points.

No Atlantic Division team has a .500 record and the teams are a combined

The Atlantic Division

Toronto: The Raptors are leading the Division with a 11-15 record, which is just .09 percentage points ahead of the Boston Celtics.

The fact that Toronto is leading the Division is quite a shock since they have made moves that made it seemed like they wanted to tank the season.

Toronto traded F Rudy Gay, C Aaron Gray and F Quincy Acy, on Dec. 9, to Sacramento for Gs John Salmons and Greivis Vasquez, F Patrick Patterson and C Chuck Hayes. The Raptors also shipped D.J. Augustin to Chicago and have reportedly been considering dealing point guard Kyle Lowry.

Toronto is 4-3 since the trading away Gay.

Toronto is 6-8 against Eastern Conference foes but 3-1 against fellow Atlantic Division teams. The Raptors are 5-5 in their last 10 games and are just 4-8 at home – the second fewest home wins amongst Eastern Conference teams. However, Toronto is 7-7 away from home – the fourth most road victories.

The Good: DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are have career seasons so far. The Raptors go nine deep – 11 if Steve Novak and Landry Field break out of their shooting funk. The Raptors are athletic and have a solid bench, if unspectacular.

Toronto is a good free throw shooting team and gets to the line. The Raptors are an average rebounding team but they do a good job hitting the offensive boards.

The bad: Toronto is an average defensive team. The Raptors are 12th in the league in points allowed but rank in the bottom third in defesive field goal percentage,3pt percentage and creating turnovers.

Grade: C. The Raptors have some really nice pieces but it is unclear what direction they are going. They need to add more scoring upfront as Amir Johnson and Jonas Valancius are the only consistent threats to score.

Boston: While it is a surprise the Raptors are leading the division, it is more of surprise that the Celtics are at the top of the division and in the eighth and final playoff spot. Although both of those facts have more to do with the state of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference then it does about the Celtics, Boston deserves some credit especially considering they have been without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

Boston is currently 12-17 on the season and has dropped three straight games. The Celtics have been inconsistent this season as they started the season with four straight losses and then won four straight games. After evening their record, Boston lost six straight.

The Good: Boston, which is a physical defensive team, ranks fifth in the Association in points allowed (96.7) and is very good at defending the three point line. On the offensive end, the Celtics have five players averaging double figures – Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger , Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford and Brandon Bass.

Boston is also a good shooting team , shooting 45.2 percent from the field.

The Bad: Boston doesn’t have a go-to- guy on the offensive end and really doesn’t have anyone who can create shots for himself or teammates. The Celtics are a poor offensive rebounding team and average, at best, rebounding team overall.

Grade: C-. Boston doesn’t have a true playmaker, though Jordan Crawford has done an admirable job, and they really could use someone who has the ability to score 20-points every night.

While Courtney Lee has been solid off the bench, the Celtics could use rookies Kelly Olnyk, Vitor Faverini or veteran Kris Humphries to step up on the offensive end.

New York: New York (9-19) could still end up winning the division despite such a poor start. The Knicks biggest problem has been there health as Andrea Bargnani and Iman Shumpert are the only players to play every game.

Tyson Chandler (20), J.R. Smith (six) Metta World Peace (six), Kenyon Martin (eight), Stoudemire (six), Raymond Felton (11) and Anthony (one) have all missed time.

New York is only 4-11 at home and is 0-9 against Western Conference teams.

Good: Anthony and Tim Hardaway Jr. Anthony is having a good season with 26.8 points and 8.8 assists a game while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 36.7 percent from beyond the arc. Anthony has eight games where he has poured in 30 or more points. Hardaway Jr. is averaging 8.8 points a game in just 18.8 minutes of action. He is shooting 47.3 percent from the field and 40.2 percent from the three-point line, but is doing little else.

The Knicks are ranked ninth in the Association in points allowed (98.8) and do an excellent job protecting the basketball – just 11.8 turnovers a game. New York also does a good job at forcing turnovers – the Knicks are the eighth best in the league at forcing turnover (15.6 game).

The bad: Injuries. The Knicks are not a good shooting team and a horrible rebounding club.

Grade: D-. The Knicks get a little reprieve due to injuries. New York needs someone who can create offense for themselves.

Brooklyn: Flat out Brooklyn (9-19) is not a good team. Yes, they have dealt with injuries to Brook Lopez and Deron Williams but if they didn’t have such high expectations coming into the season and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett hadn’t fizzled as much as they have, the season might not be as disappointing as it is.

There is still plenty of time for the Nets to turn things around.

However, Brooklyn is ranked in the bottom third of the league in scoring, points allowed and rebounding.

The good: When healthy Lopez (20.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg) and Williams (12.4 pp, 7.2 apg) are among the elites at their position. Lopez, who is out the rest of the season, was having a good offensive year but was struggling on the boards. Williams is taking the fewest shots of his career and is not getting to the line that often.

The Bad: Kevin Garnett , Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and the Nets Bench in general. With Garnett and Pierce struggling as much as they are it takes the Nets away from their offseason plan, which was to have those two along with Williams and Lopez as Joe Johnson being the centerpiece to the team’s success.

The Nets are not scoring as much as they thought they would and are one of the worst defensive teams and rebounding teams in the league.

Grade F. Things can only go up from here. Atleast Andray Blatche is having a decent season.

Philadelphia: After starting the season 5-4, the Sixers have dropped 16-of-19 games and are 8-20 on the season.

Philadelphia expected to bad this season but started off strong, however, the league’s worst defensive team can’t seem to stop anyone. The Sixers, who surrender 111.7 points a game, have only held four opponents under the century mark.

The Good: Evan Turner, Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes have been proficient on offense. Turner started the season red-hot but has cooled down lately, though he still on pace to have his best season. Carter-Williams, who has missed 11 games, has been terrific though he needs to get his shooting percent age up his shooting percentage – MCW is shooting 40. 2 percent from the field and 31.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Tony Wroten and James Anderson have provided scoring off the bench. Solid rebounding team.

The Bad: The defense is awful and the bench isn’t overly deep – Wroten, Anderson and Lavoy Allen have been the most productive. Turnovers also have killed the Sixers (17.6 per game).

Grade: F. Defense and ball-handling needs to improve. The Sixers wanted a top draft pick this year, and it looks like they will get their wish.


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