Nets’ Chance To Prove Sportsbooks Right Starts With Tuesday’s Play-In Game

A deep postseason run would erase the memory of an underwhelming campaign
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When the Nets pulled away in the fourth quarter to secure a 118-107 win Friday night over the Cavaliers, it didn’t necessarily change much for the sportsbooks. Tuesday night’s play-in game between the two teams, who will meet at Barclays Center for the second time in four days, opened with precisely the same spread as Friday’s showdown: Nets -8.5.

In fact, the sportsbooks have maintained a fairly consistent approach to the Nets, continuing to view them as title contenders all season even as they struggled just to qualify for the postseason. The Nets are generally posted as the No. 3 choice to win it all behind the Suns and Bucks, with their title odds among New York’s sportsbooks ranging from +600 (at DraftKings and WynnBet) to +700 (at BetMGM).

And now the Nets get the chance to prove that all that faith was earned.

What’s at stake

The winner of Tuesday’s game gets the No. 7 seed in the playoffs and would open Sunday at the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics. The loser has to play the winner of the 9-10 matchup between the Hornets and Hawks in a win-or-go-home game on Friday.

The Nets hold a 3-1 head-to-head advantage over the Cavaliers and went 2-2 against the spread (ATS) in those games. The teams have taken decidedly different paths here, with the Cavs having exceeded expectations, largely by playing stellar defense, and the Nets having underachieved, but featuring two of the most explosive scorers in the game in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

While the Cavs lost eight of their last 11 games, the Nets have won four in a row and 12 of their last 17.

The Nets haven’t had much home-court advantage this season, going 20-21 at home and a league-worst 10-31 ATS at Barclays Center, but there is a huge caveat here: Irving didn’t play his first home game until March 27 due to his refusal to be vaccinated and New York City’s vaccine mandates.

Porous Nets defense a concern

The over/under among New York sportsbooks ranges between 228.5 (at most books) and 229.5 (at BetMGM). This line is worth taking a long look at, as the Nets’ defense has continued to struggle even as they have won enough games to reach this point. Brooklyn has held just one opponent (the Knicks) under 105 points in the eight games since Irving returned.

The Nets have ruled out having Ben Simmons for the play-in round, but coach Steve Nash told reporters he could return at some point during the playoffs. That bit of uncertainty plays into a pattern of injuries and other factors that have plagued the Nets this year, which also included James Harden’s desire to be traded.

Beginning Tuesday night, however, they can begin to demonstrate that they are, in fact, the team bookmakers and others expected them to be all along.

Photo: Wendell Cruz/USA TODAY

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