The Brooklyn Nets' season hasn't gone to plan. First Kyrie Irving could not participate in home games, then James Harden decided he wanted out. Factor in the team’s issues with health and availability, and you can easily understand why the Nets sit tied for 8th in the Eastern Conference (going into Monday’s games) and staring the play-in tournament dead in the face.
When you consider that the Nets were expected to be the dominant team in the East this year, it's hard not to classify their season as a failure, even with all the mitigating factors. But Brooklyn still has a chance to make the playoffs, albeit via the play-in tournament. With a healthy Kevin Durant, anything is possible. The Nets also got a bit of good news last week when New York announced a relaxation of its rules regarding unvaccinated athletes and entertainers, meaning Irving can now play in all of Brooklyn’s games. He has had to sit out home games all season because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Nets are sure to be a popular team to wager on in New York sports betting, especially with the Knicks sitting outside of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.
Mobile sports betting apps launched in New York on Jan. 8 and has seen record handle in its first two months.
Explaining the Play-In Tournament
If the season was to finish today, the Nets would be in the play-in. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks are all in the mix for the play-in spots along with the Nets. Before we dive into the likelihood of Brooklyn making waves in the postseason, we need to understand what the play-in tournament means and what the Nets will need to do to guarantee legitimate playoff basketball.
The 7th seed in each conference plays the 8th seed, with the winner being ranked as the conference's 7th seed when the playoffs start. The loser of that game will face the winner of the play-in game between the 9th and 10th seeds, and whoever wins that contest becomes the playoff's 8th team for that conference.
Essentially the tournament looks like this:
- 7 plays 8
- The winner becomes 7th seed
- 9 plays 10
- The winner plays the loser of 7 vs. 8
- That winner becomes the 8th seed
Although Brooklyn could be away from home for their play-in game (or games), there's no reason to think they can't overcome that and make it into the best-of-seven first round of the postseason.
And that's where the hard work begins.
Potential Nets Playoff Opponents
The Eastern Conference is so tight that even with only a couple of weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s tough to predict how the playoff seedings will shake out. Monday morning’s NBA standings show four teams within half a game of each other at the top – Boston and Miami are tied for the best record at 47-28, with Milwaukee and Philadelphia each half a game back at 46-28. Assuming Brooklyn makes it out of the play-in round, the Nets could open their playoff push with a series against the defending NBA Champions – the Bucks. But again, the 76ers, Celtics and Heat are also possible first-round opponents.
Let’s say Brooklyn faces Milwaukee in a clash of superpowers to begin this year's postseason. Milwaukee, like the Nets, has been struggling with injuries all season, so there's no telling how prepared they're going to be. If Durant and Irving can lead the Nets into the second round, they could face the Sixers, Celtics, Chicago Bulls or Toronto Raptors (the Bulls and Raptors hold the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, respectively). If the Nets somehow get past the second round, they would be looking at a conference final appearance against one of those other teams.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Nets are still favorites to win the Eastern Conference at +250.
NBA Championship Odds
At this point, it's fair to envision the Nets both getting to the NBA Finals or falling at the first hurdle. The Eastern Conference is deep this year, and there aren't many easy outs – but none of the other teams have a Durant-level player to lean on. And when you consider the future Hall of Famer’s body of work, it's fair to expect a deep run from this Nets team.
DraftKings has the Nets at +450 NBA odds to win the Larry O'Brien Trophy this year, second only to the Phoenix Suns (+290). Brooklyn has a championship-level roster, but remember that Ben Simmons has yet to play. The Nets will depend on Durant and Irving to be leading the way.
Still, if Brooklyn makes the NBA Finals, it's worth looking at who their potential Western Conference opponents could be. The Phoenix Suns, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors have the three best records in the league, plus the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks are also strong contenders.
The only team that Brooklyn should be concerned about here is the Suns, who have been a monster of a team all season. Beyond that, Brooklyn matches up well with any other potential foe and would feel confident about winning a seven-game series on the biggest stage.
While some teams will feel like the NBA Finals are beyond their grasp, the Nets will view anything less as a failed season, even with all of the hurdles they've had to clear thus far and will continue to encounter. At worst, the Nets are Eastern Conference favorites and look like an excellent outside option to win the entire thing in the next few months.