Nets Still Favored To Win NBA Title Despite Being Forced To Start David Duke Jr.

COVID conundrum could mean no Christmas Day Trae (Young) for Knicks fans
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Which New York Knicks team will show up on Christmas Day against the Atlanta Hawks?

We don’t mean that in a “will Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin provide their usual spark off the bench” kind of way — in part because it’s questionable whether either second-year player will be on the Knicks’ active roster on Saturday. Rather, we mean it in a “which players will actually suit up for the Knicks thanks to COVID’s highly contagious Omicron variant” kind of way.

As you can imagine, this sort of day-to-day roster uncertainty doesn’t lend itself to early lines being offered on NBA games, but it’s worth noting that the Knicks, with their record sitting at 14-17 heading into Thursday night’s tilt with the Washington Wizards, had been assigned odds by PointsBet of +225 to make the playoffs and -300 to miss them.

Stars in ‘Street Clothes’

On Wednesday, Nerlens Noel became the seventh Knick to enter COVID protocols, joining Quickley, Toppin, RJ Barrett, Quentin Grimes, Kevin Knox, and Miles McBride. But that’s nothing compared to Brooklyn’s COVID constraints. Without stars Kevin Durant, James Harden, and the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving — who, after sitting out the entirety of the season to date, immediately entered the league’s COVID protocols once it was announced that he would be available to play road games — the Nets were absent a league-high 10 players earlier this week, forcing the postponement of three consecutive games.

Whether the Nets will actually play the Lakers, as scheduled, on Christmas night is a legitimate game-time decision. In their last game, a 100-93 loss to the lowly Magic on Saturday night, Brooklyn was forced to field a starting five of Patty Mills, Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards, the reanimated corpse of Blake Griffin, and David Duke Jr. (not related to any other famous David Dukes).

Despite their COVID conundrum, the Nets are still favored to win the NBA title at all major sportsbooks, including DraftKings (+245), FanDuel (+260), and PointsBet (+275). They’re followed, in something of a consensus order, by the Warriors, Bucks, Suns, Lakers, and Jazz.

About the Lakers: For as decimated as the Nets’ roster is at the moment, COVID absences pale in comparison to the four weeks or more that Anthony “Street Clothes” Davis will have to sit out with a knee injury. Los Angeles, just 16-16 entering Thursday night’s showdown with the Spurs, has been extraordinarily disappointing with Davis. And even with LeBron James playing at the peak of his powers on Tuesday night, the Lakers were blown out at home by Phoenix. The Western Conference may not be what it once was, but a “no” bet on L.A.’s playoff prospects looks fairly juicy at +350 (PointsBet).

The NBA’s decision to allow its teams to sign COVID replacement players without taking a luxury tax hit has led to the resurrection of such warm bodies of yesteryear as Isaiah Thomas (Lakers), Joe Johson (Celtics), Sauce Castillo (Raptors), C.J. Miles (Celtics), and ex-Knick Luke Kornet (Cavs). Another ex-Knickerbocker, Emmanuel Mudiay, left his team in Lithuania to take a 10-day contract with the Kings, while Atlanta will feature the Yuletide services of all-time irritant Lance Stephenson thanks to five Hawks — including star point guard Trae Young — being in COVID protocols as of Wednesday.

New York fans tend to hate Young, the provocative, shoot-from-anywhere Eddie Munster lookalike who, last season, sent the Knicks home after the first round in their first playoff series since 2013. New York hasn’t seen a villain of Young’s caliber since Reggie Miller, so hopefully Stephenson can muster the air to blow in Spike Lee’s ear on Saturday to form a cheap facsimile of the hell Young hath wrought on Garden faithful.

Photo: Brad Penner/USA TODAY

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