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Atlantic Division lead in balance as Celtics face 76ers

Mar 7, 2012, 8:04 AM EST

Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo AP

If the NBA playoffs started today, Philadelphia would be the Atlantic Division winners and four seed taking on the Pacers. Boston and New York would be the seven and eight seeds and get the Bulls and the Heat in the first round.

Boston and New York need to move up — and the easiest way to a good seed is suddenly to jump past the slumping Sixers. Philadelphia has won just two of its last 10 games, it’s offense that shot 44.6 percent on the season has shot just 41.2 percent in the last 10. On the other side, All-Star weekend rest and trade rumors have fueled Boston to a five game winning streak — they are just one game back of Philly now. The Knicks are not out of it, either, just three and a half games back.

Wednesday night Boston travels to take on Philadelphia — a Celtics win and despite the slow start, swirling trade rumors and everything else Boston will be tied for the division lead.

It matters. A lot. Win the Atlantic and you can be no lower than a four seed. Finish second in the division and it could be very tough to get out of the first round.

The Boston veterans are all saying the right things, but Paul Pierce was honest with A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com.

“This is definitely a division rival that we are going to have to overtake, and seeing as it’s going to be important going into the playoffs,” said Paul Pierce.

Right now Boston is the hot team, but it is not impossible to imagine the Knicks putting a run together and getting in this mix either.

In the NBA where seeding is done by conference usually winning the division is not that big a deal. But the Atlantic division this year could be different. Which makes this mid-season tilt in Philadelphia very interesting on Wednesday night.

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