Not sure how much worth there is anymore in winning one's division other than some bragging rights and a slight edge in seeding. However, the question of who will be the best in the Atlantic is intriguing for the first time in years because the Celtics are in danger of falling back into the pack as much as the Knicks are threatening to rise up the ranks. Pundits and "experts" around the web seem torn on the old school vs. new kids on the block, so it should make for an entertaining first game of the season as well as something of a race throughout the year.
So right up front I'll state the obvious: that I'm completely and utterly unable to be objective in this matter. I'm biased in so many ways on this matchup that they are too numerous to list but here's a start. I prefer team play over individual stars, I prefer pass first point guards, I love offense but respect defense more, and when in doubt I pick the veteran team over the younger team based on experience. Oh yeah, and you may have noticed that I'm a Celtics fan and pretty much hate everything sports related in New York City.
On the other hand, I'm also all too aware of the shortcomings of my favorite team. Even with the most emerald shaded glasses I've watched this team come up short for one reason or another the last three years and I can see clearly the end of the road. I just don't know on how high a note we can finish on.
So with that too-long lead in, let us analyze.
Who's better built for the regular season? (in particular, this season)
The Knicks are younger and will spend plenty of nights simply outscoring other teams that are tired from back-to-backs. They will trick some teams into playing at their pace and letting down their guard (so to speak) on defense. The Knicks are built to win shoot-outs and Tyson Chandler gives them just enough defense in the middle to give them an extra edge.
On the other hand, Anthony has had just half a season with Amare and neither will have played with Chandler before now and it is anyone's guess who will be handling the point guard duties (Davis? Bibby? Melo?). Meanwhile, the Celtics fearsome foursome have been doing this for 4 years already and will hit the ground running.
My guess is that they will take an inverted path to the playoffs. The Knicks will start off slow and pick up steam down the stretch. The Celtics will likely ride high on a favorable homebound schedule in the first half before getting slowed up by injuries and road trips toward the end.
How about the Playoffs?
The Knicks were no match for the Celtics in last year's playoffs, so I'm not inclined to give them much more credit with Chandler swapped out for Chauncey Billups. Again, Tyson certainly helps, but you can't just plug in one defensive center and expect the defense to come for everyone else. It takes a system, it takes commitment up and down the roster, it takes personnel willing to defend, and it takes coaching. The Knicks have none of that and the Celtics have it in spades.
The only question is: Will the Celtics be able to generate enough offense? They will slow down the Knicks but won't stop them entirely. The points have to come from somewhere and while the Big 3 have it in them to have the occasional 30 point game, they aren't the consistent threats they used to be. They need help from Rondo and the bench and those aren't sure things these days either.
So it is a balance. The Knicks tip the scales on offense while the Celtics weigh down the defensive side. If the sides are equal enough, I'll still take defense any day.
Conclusion: The old guard stays top dog for one more year at least.