Nets Attracting Tons of Futures Bets, But They Have A Toronto Problem

Kyrie’s now allowed to play in Brooklyn, but not in Canada
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On Thursday, Mayor Eric Adams lifted the vaccine mandate for professional athletes in New York City, clearing the way for Kyrie Irving to appear in his first home game for the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets.

Bettors have responded by wagering crates of cash on the Nets to win the NBA title, despite the fact that the team, currently seeded 8th in the Eastern Conference, seems destined to start its postseason run in the league’s perilous play-in tournament. There, Steve Nash’s squad could face the undesirable prospect of heading north of the border to face seventh-seeded Toronto — the only city where the unvaccinated Irving still isn’t allowed to play — in a crucial April 12 game where Brooklyn would be a likely underdog.

“We’ve tried our best to lay Brooklyn this season. While we believe in their talent, we just think the path [to the title] is so, so difficult,” PointsBet Senior Trader Sam Garriock said on Friday. “But we just can’t stop the flow of money. When the NYC vax mandate was removed, all we took was Brooklyn. Just today, I’ve taken a couple four-figure bets on them to win the title at +625. We can’t tell the public to not bet Brooklyn. They just keep coming.”

Indeed, PointsBet has taken the longest position on the Nets winning this year’s NBA championship among New York’s major online sportsbooks, followed by WynnBET (6/1), BetMGM and FanDuel (+550), Caesars (5/1), and DraftKings (+425).

How the play-in is likely to shake out

At 41-32, the Raptors are three games ahead of the Nets in the standings with nine games to play. The two teams, which split their four-game season series, won’t play again before the conclusion of the regular season, with the full-time availability of Irving’s services making it likely that Brooklyn can hold off Charlotte and Atlanta, which are only one and two games back of the Nets, respectively.

Should the Nets fall to the ninth or 10th position in the East standings, they’d have to win two straight play-in games to make the playoffs. They could still theoretically catch the Raptors or Cavaliers (who have identical records) for the seventh or sixth seed, but if the playoffs were to start right now, they’d head to Toronto, where there’s been no indication that the national ban on unvaccinated athletes setting foot on the floor will be lifted prior to April 12. 

Beat the Raptors there, and the Nets would be in the playoffs. Lose, and they’d face the Atlanta-Charlotte winner at home in a loser-out game. (The most realistic best-case scenario for the Nets would find them traveling to Cleveland, not Toronto, for the first play-in game.)

Irving-less Nets would be ‘dogs in Toronto

Assuming neither Irving nor the injured Ben Simmons, who has yet to play a game for Brooklyn since coming over from Philly in the James Harden trade, are available to participate in a play-in game in Toronto, Garriock said, “I think we would probably open with Toronto as a 1.5-point favorite. Early in the season, Toronto went to go play in Brooklyn against Durant and they were 3.5-point ‘dogs. That game didn’t have [OG] Anunoby. We kind of see the additions of [Goran] Dragic, [Seth] Curry, and [Andre] Drummond to Brooklyn and Anunoby to Toronto as about a wash.

“Just on power ratings alone, Toronto should be in the vicinity of a 3-point favorite. That being said, postseason Kevin Durant is a different animal, and in a one-game series, there’s a decent chance he’s gonna go all 48 [minutes]. We have to regress pretty hard toward Durant almost singlehandedly knocking out the team that did win the title [Milwaukee] last year in the playoffs.”

But if any team is equipped to at least slow Durant down a bit, it’s Toronto, what with a rotation chockablock with long, limber players like Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa, and Anunoby, who Garriock thinks is “the best isolation defender in the NBA.”

The problem with both teams, Gariock feels, is their depth. The Raptors, he said, “only really have five dudes,” although he allowed that Achiuwa, Chris Boucher, Thaddeus Young, and Khem Birch are at least serviceable off the pine. And the Nets’ bench is even shallower.

‘An exceedingly tough road’ for Nets

Enter Simmons, provided he ever, uh, enters a game — which is very much an open question at this point. 

Garriock currently has the Nets priced “as though we have a very hampered Simmons at best,” adding, “While we kind of don’t expect him to come back, he does raise their ceiling to a high level.” 

Should he return to the floor, however, Garriock said, “We could see the Nets’ title odds improve, but we probably wouldn’t be all that much shorter, just because of the path they have to take to win a title. They can absolutely win just with Kyrie and KD. If we get the Durant we got in last year’s playoffs and Kyrie on top of that, there’s a pretty decent chance they’re the best team in the league. They just have an exceedingly tough road.”

That road would likely entail a postseason gauntlet featuring a trio of series against some combination of Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston, and Miami, which will host the Nets on Saturday after a Friday night date with the Knicks at FTX Arena. A week ago, the East-leading Heat seemed poised to cruise to a conference title, but consecutive losses to Philly and Golden State — two teams that were playing without any of their headlining stars —seem to have rocked their boat a bit, and it never helps when your best player almost gets in a fistfight with the head coach.

Photo: Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY

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