According to Gary Tanguay (and confirmed now by several others), Nets center Brook Lopez is out for the season with a broken foot. And if you've watched the Nets at any point this season, you know that this is a devastating loss for them. On a team with seven former All-Stars, Lopez is without question the best player at the moment. He had been averaging 20.7 PPG, 6 RPG and 1.8 BPG while shooting 56% from the floor and 82% from the line for Brooklyn this season, ranking 7th in the NBA in PER (25.7).

Obviously, this is a huge blow to a Nets team currently sitting at 9-17 and 2.5 games behind the Celtics in the Atlantic division. Now the question becomes: are the Celtics now division favorites?

Think about it. The Nets are now without their best player, and have seen both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett take massive steps backwards this season. They're also coached by Jason Kidd, who is seemingly overmatched as an NBA head coach. Brooklyn is going to need phenomenal performances by Deron Williams and Joe Johnson to make a run towards .500 and the top of the division.

Then there's the 8-17 Knicks, thought to be the 2nd best team in the division before the season started. They've been playing some of the worst basketball you'll ever see, and their coach looks to be on the way out as well. J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert have all taken massive steps backwards this year as the Knicks have been unable to match their 54-win effort from 2012-13. At 8-17 and 3 games back of the Celtics, there is still time for them to make a run. But at some point you need to wonder if this roster is simply not good enough.

The Raptors are currently in 2nd place with a record of 10-14, entering action today only 1/2 a game behind the Celtics. But Toronto just traded their best player in Rudy Gay, and are taking offers for the rest of their team. Their GM, former Nuggets boss Masai Ujiri, does not seem like he wants to compete for a chance to get annihilated by the Pacers or Heat in the playoffs with so much elite talent at the top of the draft next summer. While anything is possible (KG taught us that), Toronto is more likely to drop in the standings than they are to rise.

And then there's the Sixers, who beat the Nets on an Evan Turner buzzer beater last night to improve to 8-19 and move within 4 games of the Cs. Philadelphia started the season 3-0 but have since gone 5-19, and have needed overtime to win three of those games. For those who believe point differential is important (and it is) while analyzing how good a team is, Philly's -9.2 differential is tied with the Jazz for worst in basketball. This team has no shot.

Which brings us back to the Celtics. Who have the best record in the division (12-15), the best coach in the division, and who are about to get their best player back in Rajon Rondo. Obviously there is plenty of time for Danny Ainge to make a talent-purging trade and send the Cs spiraling downward in the standings. But what indication have we had that that is going to happen?

The bottom-line is that Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger is the best starting five in the Atlantic. And a bench of Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Kelly Olynyk and Vitor Faverani gives the team a fair amount of depth.

So as crazy as it may seem to some of us in a season where we expected a top five draft pick - the Boston Celtics are the favorites to win the Atlantic division at the moment.

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Michael Dyer 12/21/2013 12:36:00 PM Edit
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