The Empire Slate: Kyrie’s Vax Status May Define This Nets Season

Our weekly look at New York sports analyzes how local rules may impact how far Brooklyn goes
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“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.

The Brooklyn Nets’ NBA title prospects are coming down to a staring contest between Kyrie Irving and Eric Adams.

For the Nets to become the team that can live up to its lofty expectations and get through a deep Eastern Conference in the playoffs, they will need Irving to do his thing. In case anyone needed a reminder of how impactful Irving’s thing can be, just glance at Tuesday’s box score.

It’s been a while since an NBA player put on a show as impressive as Irving’s first half Tuesday night in Orlando. It was very nearly pristine. Magic fans were chanting Irving’s name after he got off to a nearly perfect start, making six of his first seven three-point attempts and all seven of his free throws. By the end of the game, Irving had set a franchise record with 60 points.

The next night, with the Nets desperately trying to maintain the momentum of a five-game winning streak, Irving was on the bench. He continues to refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and, while the mayor of New York, Adams, has lifted the vaccine mandate for public events, he has yet to lift the workplace vaccine mandate.

That means, barring one of the two men budging, Irving can only play in four of the Nets’ final 12 games, the road contests. The same would hold true of any playoff games.

“My faith in things turning around hasn’t changed, it hasn’t wavered,” Irving said after Tuesday’s performance. Sadly, he was referring to Adams lifting the mandate, not to his own mind changing about a vaccine that, according to the CDC’s latest guidance, is, “effective at preventing infection, serious illness, and death. Most people who get COVID-19 are unvaccinated.”

Title odds grow longer

The Irving drama continues to play into the Nets’ lengthening title odds. After months of most sportsbooks keeping the Nets as their championship favorites, they’ve slipped to third at most books and fourth behind the 76ers at some, with PointsBet offering them at the most bettor-friendly odds (+650) in New York.

If Adams suddenly drops the workplace vaccine mandate, what would happen to those odds? If you were watching Tuesday, you probably already know. They’d get a lot shorter. The Nets can’t rely on getting Ben Simmons back given news that he has been dealing with a back injury, so Irving ending his recalcitrance might be their only shot at being the team they thought they were building.

DraftKings and WynnBET continue to maintain the most faith in the Nets, leaving them as their +475 third choice.

The Nets remain a consensus top choice to win the Eastern Conference, with their odds ranging from +250 (at DraftKings) to +325 (at PointsBet). PointsBet is also the only book in New York offering another East team, the Bucks, at shorter odds.

Will the Rangers help themselves?

The NHL trade deadline is four days away and the Rangers signaled their desire to improve when they added veteran winger Frank Vatrano for a conditional fourth-round pick in a trade with the Florida Panthers this week. The Rangers might need to do a bit more than that to become bona fide Stanley Cup contenders.

The team, which has won five of its last seven games, has given general manager Chris Drury every reason to be active. It’s time for him to add a piece or two to fortify them for a challenging playoff run.

Bookmakers aren’t really buying the Rangers as serious contenders. Most books have them at +2000 to win it all, and WynnBET is less sanguine on their chances, offering them at +2500.

Big game with cross-town rivals

Every game counts for the Rangers at this point of the season, including Thursday night’s home contest against a mediocre Islanders team. The trends indicate the Rangers may be a good play here.

The Rangers have gone 24-7 as the moneyline favorite this season while the Islanders haven’t been able to pull off many upsets. The Islanders have won as underdogs in just 13% of the 23 games they’ve played as such and they’ve gone 0-6 as more than +135 underdogs. Their best price in New York is at DraftKings, which offers the Islanders at +140.

Who knows, maybe the teams could work out a trade while they’re together and the Islanders could leave one of their players at Madison Square Garden when they leave. Don’t count on it: The teams have pulled off just three trades with each other in their histories.

Draft doings

Pro Football Focus’s latest mock draft has the Jets taking edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 4 and the Giants following by picking offensive tackle Charles Cross at No. 5.

Because Thibodeaux had slipped in some of the other mock drafts (despite testing well at the combine), there could be a good betting opportunity here. PFF notes it’s “not buying the slide, given how perfect a fit Thibodeaux is for Robert Saleh’s defense. He may not be NFL-ready out the gate, but he’s got the kind of tools to be a force off the edge.”

If you agree with PFF, mosey over to FanDuel, which is offering a bet on Thibodeaux’s draft position at over-under 5.5. The under is +112.

Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY


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