“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.
Bookmakers have shown very different attitudes toward New York’s two NBA teams this season for relatively obvious reasons. While the Brooklyn Nets seemingly can do no wrong, remaining among the NBA title favorites despite mediocre results, the New York Knicks get virtually no respect.
With 16 games left in the season, the Knicks sit 3.5 games back of the Hawks for the final play-in spot in the East, while the Nets, currently sitting at eighth in the conference standings, would also have to play their way into the playoffs if they fail to catch the Cavaliers for the sixth seed. And yet, at DraftKings, you would get 20 times longer odds on the Knicks just to make the playoffs (+10000) than you would on the Nets to win the NBA title (+500).
The Knicks are coming off three straight impressive wins out West, including a 30-point win at Dallas Wednesday night, giving them the slimmest of postseason hopes. They’ve been insanely streaky all year, losing 11 of their previous 12 before this little run.
Both teams trending ‘under’
The Nets’ season win total was tabbed at 56.5 (at PointsBet) coming into the season, meaning the best they can do is finish 6.5 games under their projection. The Knicks’ total at the same book was 41.5, meaning they could cash the over by going (an admittedly unlikely) 14-2.
It’s been a frustrating NBA season for both New York teams, but the Nets are certainly outperforming the Knicks in the disappointment department.
The Knicks are probably better off losing as many of their remaining games as possible to get a high draft pick as they look to contend in 2023 and beyond. The Nets, meanwhile, are getting healthier and are in win-at-all-costs mode with a star-studded, aging roster. Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Patty Mills all are free agents following this season.
At long last, many of the bookmakers seem to be moving away from featuring the Nets among the elite of the elite to win it all. You can get them at +800 to win the NBA title at PointsBet, which has the Suns (+425), Warriors (+450), 76ers (+650) and Bucks (+700) all at shorter odds. Most books, including Caesars (+600), still have the Nets as their third choice after the Suns and Warriors (both +450).
Can the Nets beat Philly?
A lot of the talk going into Thursday’s Nets game at Philadelphia concerns the reception Ben Simmons will get while sitting on the bench. A bigger concern is how the rest of the team plays.
The Nets really can’t afford to lose many more games, especially against Eastern Conference teams, and with Irving and Kevin Durant both playing against the 76ers, they’d like to show they can beat one of the true title contenders. The line is Nets +4.5 across the board. If you’re comfortable taking the Nets to win, your best bet in New York is BetMGM, where you can get them at +165 on the moneyline.
The Nets have to pull out of their current tailspin — 4-16 in their last 20 games — to make bookmakers look like they knew what they were talking about five months ago.
What about the total?
The main culprit for the Nets’ disappointing season thus far is a defense that has simply not shown up many nights. The Nets’ defensive rating (118.4) ranks 28th in the NBA during the aforementioned 20-game stretch. Durant’s return hasn’t altered it so far, with opponents shooting 50% in the three games since he came back from an injury.
Simmons will undoubtedly help the Nets’ defense when he returns, but he’s already been ruled out for Thursday. Meanwhile, the Sixers are rolling offensively, with James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey giving them three lethal scoring threats.
All of those factors have caused the over to drift up during the past couple of days, moving to 234 (at DraftKings) and as high as 234.5 at BetMGM and Caesars.
Harden, Embiid, and Maxey have combined for an average of 82 points per game in their five games together. Given Brooklyn’s porous defense, keep an eye on those player totals, with Maxey (over-17.5 points at DraftKings) a particularly intriguing possibility.
Checking in on the ACC Tournament
The ACC Tournament got started in earnest on Thursday, with the teams that earned double-byes, including top-seeded Duke, jumping into action at Barclays Center.
Keep an eye on Virginia, which still probably needs to win one more game to snag an at-large NCAA bid. The Cavaliers survived an ugly 51-50 win vs. Louisville in the first round, and now they desperately need to beat North Carolina, a 3.5-point favorite at DraftKings and a 4.5-point favorite at BetMGM. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m.
North Carolina probably already punched its March Madness ticket with Saturday’s upset of Duke. Virginia coach Tony Bennett has a solid track record against UNC and he’ll probably look to keep this one low-scoring again, which could make the under-130.5 (at DraftKings) a strong play.
Rangers might need to upgrade
The Rangers are tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division and trail the Carolina Hurricanes by just six points, but bookmakers view them as the clear No. 3 choice (+800 at DraftKings), in part because their defense has been faulty at times, including during a 5-2 loss to the Wild Tuesday night.
With the NHL trade deadline just 11 days away, the Rangers might need to add a piece or two to become a viable playoff threat. Reports suggest they’ve narrowed in on a reunion with winger J.T. Miller, but they might be better off targeting a defenseman such as Ben Chiarot. In either case, the Rangers probably are going to have to overpay for a player who will essentially be a short-term rental.
Given their surprising run this season, it seems worth the price to reward their hungry fan base.
Photo: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today