Checking in on the standings as of January 23rd. The Celtics are stuck in 3rd place in the East, behind the usual suspects Cleveland and Toronto. Nobody really expects the Celtics to catch the Cavs unless LeBron takes a few weeks off and the whole team takes a mental vacation in the next month or two.
The Raptors, however, are only a game and a half ahead of Boston and have lost 3 straight (to the Sixers, Hornets, and Suns).
Of course the Celtics haven’t been able to gain much ground having lost 2 in a row themselves. The week ahead features games against the surging Wizards, the Houston Beards, the Magic, and the Milwaukee Greek Freaks.
Ever so quietly, the Atlanta Hawks have pulled within a half game of the Celtics. Not bad for a team that was (then wasn’t) openly shopping their best player. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 (one of the losses being to Boston). Perhaps they aren’t going to blow up their team after all.
Beyond that there’s a muddle of teams making up the 5 through 10 spots separated by only 3 games or less.
At the bottom of the standings (or the top of the tanking standings if you prefer), the Nets are a full 4.5 games separated from the next closest teams (currently the Lakers and Heat). The Suns, Wolves, and Mavericks have all been a surprising 5-5 in their last 10.
The story of the last few weeks, however, has been the surging Sixers. They are 7-3 in their last 10 including wins over the Raptors, Bucks, and Hornets. They are still a young team that has a lot of growing to do, but they aren’t a near-automatic W for opposing teams any more. In particular when Rookie of the Year candidate Joel Embiid is playing.