The Brooklyn Nets officially received fantastic news Thursday when Mayor Eric Adams declared that pro athletes and performers are exempt from New York City’s vaccine mandate. Point guard Kyrie Irving will now be able to play at Barclays Center beginning with Sunday’s home game against the Charlotte Hornets.
The game will be the second of a back-to-back for the Nets, who face the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat for a huge test Saturday night. Irving has gotten into one back-to-back situation, on Feb. 1-2, so he should available to head coach Steve Nash.
Nets Futures Odds On The Move
With Irving allowed to play in home games, a higher seed becomes more likely for Brooklyn, and sportsbooks adjusted Nets odds accordingly.
The Westgate SuperBook moved the Nets from +700 to +500 to win the title, Jeff Sherman, VP of risk management at the Las Vegas shop, told Gaming Today. The Nets are the second favorite to win the NBA Championship (Phoenix Suns +350) and the top choice to win the East (+250) over the Milwaukee Bucks (+325).
FanDuel Sportsbook made the Eastern Conference favorite a +240 choice to reach the NBA Finals, tightening their odds from +280, before an adjustment back in other direction to +260. The Nets’ championship odds moved from +550 to +500 but are back to +550 as of Friday afternoon.
DraftKings has the Nets favored at +250 to win the East and their title odds at +450, trailing only the Suns (+290).
The opportunity to avoid the play-in round or improve their chances by picking up a home date eases the Nets’ road, which explains why sportsbooks altered their numbers.
Brooklyn’s Upcoming Schedule
Brooklyn is set to host the Detroit Pistons and Bucks to close out March, games that Irving wouldn’t have been able to participate in if this exemption hadn’t come into play. The Nets have April home dates against the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Indiana Pacers. While they may have won those anyway, having Irving next to Kevin Durant softens the blow of Ben Simmons’ likely continued absence due to a herniated disc in his back.
Since suffering through an 11-game losing streak that opened a 3-17 run from Jan. 23-March 6, Brooklyn has gone 6-2 to move back over .500. With Irving available for home games, the Nets’ chances of remaining ahead of ninth-place Charlotte and the 10th-place Atlanta Hawks have increased dramatically, and so have their chances of staying out of the play-in tournament altogether, as they trail the Cavs and Toronto Raptors by just three games and can run both down to finish No. 6.
The fifth-place Chicago Bulls aren’t likely to be caught but are only four games up on Brooklyn, due to a 1-5 record since March 14 entering Saturday night’s date in Cleveland. No matter how that game goes down, Brooklyn will make up ground on the loser. Chicago closes out the season with a five-game homestand against the L.A. Clippers, Heat, Bucks, Boston Celtics, and Hornets.
Coming off an impressive win Thursday over the Cavs, which pulled Toronto even with Cleveland at 41-32, the Raptors will play seven of their remaining nine regular-season games at home. The two road games left on Toronto’s schedule are against an Orlando Magic team bringing up the rear in the East and the Knicks on the last day of the regular season. The Celtics, Minnesota Timberwolves, Heat, Hawks, and the Philadelphia 76ers all visit Scotiabank Arena.
Cleveland follows up its Saturday night date with the Bulls with light work at home against the Magic, but that’s the last lock of a victory at Rocket Mortgage Center. The Dallas Mavericks, Sixers, and Milwaukee Bucks all come through town and are playing for seeding themselves. The Cavs visit Atlanta, New York, and Orlando before playing at Barclays Center on April 8 in their road finale, which may very well wind up being a winner take all for the No. 6 or 7 spot.
Kyrie The Finisher
Brooklyn has no room for error if it wants to move up to No. 6, but Irving’s availability makes an 8-0 finish far more likely than without him. The Nets face a Heat team in South Florida that will be playing the second of a back-to-back, and they’ll be heavily favored in every game going forward with the exception of the March 31 showdown with the Bucks in Brooklyn. Irving’s presence means the Nets will be ‘chalk’ in that one, too.
Even if the Nets can finish above only one of the teams they’re chasing, emerging as the No. 7 seed would allow them to host the No. 8 seed in the play-in to gain entry into the playoffs. As things stand entering the weekend, they would be on the road for that winner-take-all contest.
In the NBA’s new play-in tournament format, the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds play each other in an elimination game with the winner visiting the loser of the Nos. 7-8 matchup for the right to face the conference’s top seed. With Irving now in the mix full-time, it seems pretty farfetched not to expect the Nets to emerge as the major factor most have figured they would be, despite the lengthy slump they went through.
Barring injury, chances are you missed out on Brooklyn’s best betting numbers if you haven’t fired already.