The Brooklyn Nets dragged themselves to the All-Star break with a 31–28 record. They’re eighth in the Eastern Conference and project as a play-in tournament entry. Brooklyn is 2.5 games behind the red-hot Boston Celtics for the East’s sixth and final guaranteed playoff berth.
But the Nets are also only 2.5 games ahead of ninth-place Charlotte and 10th-place Atlanta in the race to avoid needing two play-in victories for the right to play the top seed. And the Washington Wizards loom 3.5 games back (with two wins over Brooklyn in the last week) in 11th.
However, Las Vegas still likes the Nets’ chances at a championship. As of Feb. 17, Brooklyn is plus-550 to win the title. Those are the same odds as the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks. The co-favorites are Western powers Phoenix and Golden State at plus-450.
So what in the heck does Vegas know that the rest of us can’t see?
The Brooklyn Nets are 10–20 since welcoming back Kyrie Irving
In October, the Brooklyn Nets opted to send Kyrie Irving home. He was only available for road games, and the team decided no Kyrie was better for continuity than half-a-Ky.
With a 114–105 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 16, Brooklyn improved to 21–8. They held a 2.5-game lead over the Bucks in the East. But the Nets were losing players to health and safety protocols by the handful.
That led to the fateful decision to allow Irving to rejoin the team as a temp (an extraordinarily well-paid temp, but still). The unvaccinated star came to the facility immediately tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), and joined several teammates in the protocols. Sometimes the irony writes itself.
When the seven-time All-Star made his delayed debut at Indiana on Jan. 5, the Nets won to break a three-game losing streak. But since Kevin Durant sprained his left knee on Jan. 15, Brooklyn fell faster than a cryptocurrency valuation.
They lost 11 straight games from Jan. 23–Feb. 12. Even with back-to-back wins over the Kings and Knicks, the loss to the Wizards on Feb. 17 left Brooklyn just 4–13 since Durant’s injury and 10–20 since breaking the glass on the Kyrie emergency box.
Why is Vegas sticking with the Nets?
Since the Brooklyn Nets announced Irving’s impending return to action, they’re one of the worst teams in the NBA. It’s not a small sample size, either. Here are the worst records since Dec. 17, the day of the announcement:
- Houston Rockets (6–23)
- Indiana Pacers (7–22)
- Orlando Magic (8–23)
- Detroit Pistons (9–22)
- Sacramento Kings (10–21)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (10–21)
- Brooklyn Nets (10–20)
As the old saying goes, you’re judged by the company you keep. No offense to the rebuilds listed above, but it’s not exactly an elite crowd for the Nets.
Despite that, Brooklyn is one of four teams with the best odds to win the NBA championship. There are two words to explain why Vegas is still bullish on Brooklyn. Kevin Durant.
There’s a lot of money on the Nets already. If they were to careen down the board, the potential of Durant carrying the team on a miracle run would be too much for some gamblers to resist.
The Timberwolves, for instance, have an identical 31–28 record at the All-Star break. Their championship odds are plus-12,500.
There is no way the bookmakers will give Brooklyn those odds, not even for a second. The same principle inflates the odds for the Lakers, who are plus-3,000. The Cleveland Cavaliers, fourth in the East and eight games better than LA, are plus-4,000.
No oddsmaker wants to explain to the bosses why they lost a gazillion dollars because Durant or LeBron James carried a longshot to the title. Those odds have less to do with what is happening than how much money is flowing to which team.
The Brooklyn Nets have no business in the championship conversation
Durant will return for the Brooklyn Nets at some point after the All-Star break. Ben Simmons will make his much-anticipated debut for the club.
There are other factors, too. Seth Curry gives Brooklyn the shooter/floor-spacer it lacked when Joe Harris hurt his ankle. Andre Drummond can rebound, giving the Nets one guy who has that in his skill set.
And then there’s Irving, dubbed “half-man, half-a-season” by TNT’s Charles Barkley. Unless mandates change, he’s eligible to play in just eight of Brooklyn’s remaining 23 games.
Add it all up, and you have a team struggling for its postseason life. One of the top four contenders for the championship? Seriously?
If the Brooklyn Nets catch fire after the break, they can climb back into the top six. But as one pundit suggested recently, they might not want to do much more than that. After all, homecourt advantage isn’t much of one if one of your superstars can’t play.