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The Boston Celtics look like contenders

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Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

BOSTON – So … who are the Celtics?

Officially, Boston is 17-7, second in its division, fourth in the conference. A chance to climb those standings fell by the wayside on Thursday, when a Joel Embiid-fueled Sixers team muscled out a 117-109 win. Embiid, physically overwhelming against most teams, looked cartoonishly big against Boston, bullying a Celtics team that, Brad Stevens admits, doesn’t “have a lot of guys with that old school center strength.”

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More than a quarter of the way through the season, and with the calendar inching towards Christmas, the true contenders are starting to crystalize. The West has the two LA teams at the top, setting up what could be a mouthwatering hallway series in the playoffs. Milwaukee is the class of the east, with the super sized Sixers lurking, riding the NBA’s only perfect home record.

Apologies, Dallas and Miami. Let’s talk again around All-Star.

Boston?

Well …

Look, that the Celtics are even in this conversation is an accomplishment. A bad reality show last season, Boston saw Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Aron Baynes walk out last summer, Kemba Walker come in and have regrouped faster than anyone expected. Jaylen Brown is playing like an All-Star, Jayson Tatum flashes All-NBA talent and the Marcus Smart/Daniel Theis pairing has anchored a shockingly good defense.

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