PHILADELPHIA Ever since the Big Three era in Boston began, it was a given that the Atlantic Division race wasn't really a race at all.
The Celtics (20-18) would have no problem finishing first, while the rest of the division would fight for whatever playoff seeding scraps were left behind.
This season is one with lots of changes throughout the NBA, including the race to the top of the Atlantic; it's actually a race now.
So far, it's a race the C's aren't winning.
Boston's 32-point drubbing at the hands of Philadelphia on Wednesday night -- the worst loss in the Big Three era -- robbed the Celtics of a chance at taking over the top spot in the division ahead of the Sixers (23-17).
A number of factors have contributed to this season being such a struggle for the Celtics to get the top spot in the Atlantic, a place they have finished each of the past four seasons.
Since the Atlantic Division was formed prior to the 1970-1971 season, only two teams have won it five or more consecutive seasons.
The C's did it first between 1972-1977, and they did it again about a decade later (1983-1988).
Only by winning the division can a team assure themselves of having home court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.
And with so many teams in the Atlantic hovering around the .500 mark, winning the division could mean the difference between beginning the playoffs at home, or starting off on the road against Miami or Chicago.
That in itself makes Wednesday's loss a tough one for the Celtics, even if the players won't fully embrace the notion.
For the very same reasons that beating New York on Sunday was important for them -- division rivalry, potential playoff seeding, importance of winning head-to-head matchup -- so should have been the value of Wednesday's game.
Paul Pierce acknowledged the loss to the Sixers was an important game, "we gotta win as many games as possible."
He added, "If we still have a better record than Philly, New York, New Jersey and other teams, then we still get that top seed regardless of our division record."
Rajon Rondo echoed Pierce's comments.
"We want to get the best seed possible, regardless of the division," Rondo said. "We want to try to continue to win games. The bottom line is we want to win, win, win."