Atlantic Division still Sixers' to lose

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Andre Iguodala closes in on Paul Pierce after a scramble for a loose ball in the first half. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)

Here's what we learned Wednesday night: The Atlantic Division is still very much in the 76ers' hands.

It's not that the Sixers are the best team. They may be, they may not. Better than the Celtics of Garnett, Allen, Pierce and Rondo? Too close to call really, especially since it would be tough to name a fifth Celtics player in 5 seconds or less.

But this season has shown the Atlantic to be up for grabs, and the Sixers have done by far the most grabbing so far. And while it's no certainty they'll finish the job, it's a complete certainty that their chief rivals -- the Celtics and Knicks -- are in no way ready to overtake them.

Let's focus on Wednesday's foe, Boston, a heavyweight of the Eastern Conference since they brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen before the 2007-08 season. The Celtics have slipped a lot this season. They're still dangerous from night to night, and when you throw in Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo, they have an elite top four players in their lineup and are dangerous on any night.

An NBA title, however, is well outside Boston's grasp. The next domino to fall was going to be the division, and it might as well be the Sixers who take advantage in this truncated season.

It looked for a while like they might run away with the Atlantic, but the schedule got predictably tough and Boston made a predictable run. Which may still finish with the Celtics overtaking the 76ers before the season ends. But don't count on it. This just in from South Philly: Boston's not that good anymore, and the Sixers can stop looking over their shoulders in fear.

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