Atlantic disaster

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

It hasn't been much of a beginning for the NBA's Atlantic Division. The Atlantic was created last summer when the league pushed the number of divisions in the Eastern and Western Conferences to three from two.

The inclusion of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats into the East made for a handy 15 teams and three five-team divisions for both sides. That meant three division winners per conference with another five post-season spots taken up by the teams with the best records.

Problem is, the Atlantic has been more like the Titanic. The NBA's new baby included four teams, the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors, that posted losing records last year. With New Jersey's freefall from NBA finalist in 2003 to typical Atlantic doormat, the worst division in team sports is at least keeping most everyone, mathematically at least, in the playoff race.

No NBA team over the last decade has won a division with a record as poor as the frontrunning 33-29 Celtics.

Does that make the Atlantic the worst division in NBA or even sports history?

Nah. There have been NBA and NHL seasons where entire divisions have been in the red.

The 1975-76 Milwaukee Bucks, having erred slightly in trading Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Los Angeles for no one of consequence in the previous off-season, won the Western Conference's Midwest Division despite winning only 38 of 82 games (.463).

Four seasons before, the Baltimore Bullets used precisely the same number of wins to claim the East's Central Division.

Only on one other occasion has a losing team, the 1956-57 St. Louis Hawks, a 34-38 outfit, captured a division with a losing record.

With a stricter standard for post-season play in place for baseball, it's no wonder that no team with a losing record has ever claimed a division title.

The closest was the 1973 New York Mets who won the National League East with an 82-79 mark. Bob Rosen of the Elias Sports Bureau pointed out that one team, the 1994 Rangers seemed destined to be the first. The Rangers stumbled to a 52-62 record when baseball went on strike. The season and the World Series were wiped out by the work stoppage so while the record is final, it's not admissible for our study.

There has never been a division-winning NFL team with a sub-500 record,Rosen said.

Closest was the 1985 Cleveland Browns who won the AFC Central crown with an 8-8 record.

Only twice since the CFL went to two divisions in 1936 has a .500 team managed a division title. The Edmonton Eskimos won the West in 2001 with a 9-9 record. Hamilton and Montreal finished with 8-8 records atop the Eastern Conference in 1985. The Ticats were awarded first place in a tiebreaker.

The 1968 expansion created the NHL's Western Division, a collection of six expansion teams that in its first three years produced only two winning teams.

There have been worse. The top team in the spectacularly bad Smythe Division in the 1976-77 season was the 32-39-9 St. Louis Blues. Worse yet was the Smythe in 1978-79, winners of the bad division trifecta.

Not only were none of the four Smythe teams, Chicago, Vancouver, St. Louis and Colorado unable to manage a winning record, the entire division won fewer games (87), than the Islanders and Flyers, the top two winners in the Patrick. For good measure, no Smythe Division player was able to crack the league's top 10 scorers.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

W L

Boston 33 29

Philadelphia 30 32

New York 26 34

New Jersey 27 36

Toronto 26 36


Photos