The Empire Slate: Nets No Longer Favored, Rangers Looking To Deal?

Our weekly look at upcoming action involving New York teams
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“The Empire Slate” is a weekly look at betting angles and trends involving New York sports.

When the Brooklyn Nets traded James Harden to the Philadelphia 76ers a week ago, most sportsbooks barely reacted.

The Nets remained the consensus favorites to win the NBA title the next day, even after the books witnessed them lose their 10th straight game the night before to a pretty bad Washington Wizards team. Caesars, for example, simply left the Nets as 4-to-1 favorites.

Not sure exactly what changed, but the bookmakers have finally shifted their stance on this Nets team. Apparently, beating the New York Knicks by five points (as they did Wednesday night) is worse than losing to the Wizards? Maybe there’s some truth to that, considering that the Knicks’ trajectory has one longtime fan, ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith, in a bit of a lather:

At most online sportsbooks, the Nets have slipped to the No. 3 choice behind the Phoenix Suns, who just keep winning, and the Golden State Warriors, who have Steph Curry. If you still believe the Nets will barge past everybody in the end, your best bet in New York is to nab them at +600 at FanDuel and WynnBET. The biggest believer of the seven sportsbooks taking bets in New York: DraftKings, which has the Nets as co-favorites with Phoenix at +425 and Golden State at +450.

The one bookmaker who did react to the trade immediately was Jay Kornegay at Westgate’s SuperBook, which does not accept wagers in New York. The SuperBook moved the Nets from +600 to +1000, but now has them back at +600.

The frequent shifting and wide variety of lines reflects one of the most wide-open NBA seasons in recent memory. The reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks, the No. 4 choice most places, are anywhere from +550 (FanDuel) to +700 (DraftKings).

The NBA is headed into its All-Star Weekend, and this seems like a good time to reevaluate the Nets’ chances. Coach Steve Nash told reporters recently that Kevin Durant might not be back immediately after the break, but it sounds like he’ll be playing at some point next week. If you still like the Nets, now might be the best price you’ll see for the remainder of the season.

What about the other Curry?

No reason to mince words here: The main reason the bookmakers didn’t adjust their odds much after the Harden trade was that they, like many NBA fans, viewed Harden as more of a problem than an asset to the Nets at that point.

Harden scored just four points and gave what was widely viewed as a lackadaisical effort in the Nets’ embarrassing Feb. 2 loss to the Sacramento Kings before injuring a hamstring and spending the remainder of his days as a Net on the bench.

The headliner in the return for Harden was Ben Simmons, but two of the other players in that trade made it look good right away. Seth Curry and Andre Drummond combined to score 34 points, pull down 16 rebounds, and dish out nine assists in a 24-point win over the same Kings team Monday night.

This has been a breakout year for Seth Curry, and it will be interesting to see how his opportunities evolve on the Nets.

“He loved playing there and they were playing well, but obviously you’ve got to make that move. It’s a win-win for him,” Seth’s brother, Steph, told reporters. “Hopefully, he can still be on a contender and be impactful in the playoff chase with Brooklyn. Excited to see him in a new uni.”

Shot opportunities figure to go down for everybody when Durant returns, so Thursday night might be the right time to bet on Curry. He is averaging 21.5 points in his two games with Brooklyn and DraftKings has set his point total at 16.5 (over is -120) vs. the Wizards, one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

NHL trade deadline approaching

Now that the NBA trade deadline has passed, the best hot-stove season going during this interminable MLB lockout is in the NHL.

The Rangers are very much in the mix to win the Metropolitan Division at 31-13-4, and recent reports have linked them to trade talks involving the Montreal Canadiens, who already have begun dismantling a team that shockingly reached the NHL Finals last year but has fallen apart this season.

The Canadiens are said to be looking to move veteran defenseman Ben Chiarot, and the Rangers could fortify themselves for a playoff run by adding him to improve their left-side defense. Meanwhile, the Islanders (17-20-6) and Sabres (16-24-8) are probably more likely to be sellers than buyers before the March 21 deadline.

If you think the Rangers will be aggressive before the deadline, this might be the time to jump in on a futures play. They are +2200 to win the NHL title (DraftKings), +1100 to win the Eastern Conference, and the third choice at +500 to win the Metropolitan.

Another angle to think about is betting on Adam Fox to win the James Norris trophy, which goes to the league’s best defenseman. The Rangers’ 22-year-old phenom is at +500 behind Cale Makar (+125) and Victor Hedman (+380).

Sharps jump all over Buffalo

The Action Network alerted fans to a sharp line move in Thursday’s Buffalo-Eastern Michigan men’s basketball game that seemed to indicate “that wise guys steamed the Bulls twice.”

The line opened with Buffalo as an 8.5-point favorite, but sharp money pushed it all the way to 11 (at DraftKings) by Thursday’s noon tipoff. It’s not exactly a marquee matchup (Buffalo is 14-8), but if Buffalo covers, it will be an example of why it’s always good to compare the number of bets with the handle to see where the smart money is going.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

Photo: Brad Penner/USA Today

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