Nets are NBA Finals betting favorite despite 11-game skid, Durant injury and Harden trade
It must be the season for unlikely title-game runs.
A day after the massive preseason longshot Cincinnati Bengals came within two minutes of winning Super Bowl 56, the betting favorite to appear in the NBA Finals is languished in an 11-game losing streak.
Remarkably, the Brooklyn Nets own the shortest odds among all Eastern Conference teams to win the NBA title. Tipico Sportsbook lists the Nets a +500 third overall choice behind the favored Phoenix Suns (+425) and Golden State Warriors (+480) of the Western Conference.
If the season ended Monday, the Nets would be the eighth and final team to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs. They are tied in the win column with the ninth-place Charlotte Hornets.
The Nets have been a mess with top-scoring forward Kevin Durant sidelined since Jan. 15 with a sprained left MCL. Kyrie Irving hasn’t played at home because of his refusal to get vaccinated against COVID-19. And the Nets just rid themselves of James Harden at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
Brooklyn (29-27) acquired the Philadelphia 76ers’ malcontent point guard Ben Simmons in the Harden deal, along with Seth Curry and Andre Drummond. The Nets return to the court Monday for a home game at Barclays Center against the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings (22-36) are a 2.5-point favorite, according to Tipico Sportsbook. Curry and Drummond have been cleared to return, and Drummond reported last week Simmons is still “getting himself ready to play” after sitting out the entire season with the 76ers.
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Irving again is not permitted to play in New York because of his vaccination stance.
Durant, meanwhile, has begun light workouts and he traveled with the Nets to their Saturday game in Miami. Coach Steve Nash wouldn’t pinpoint Durant’s expected return following Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.
“It’s getting better every day. It’s a process to get back on the court and I’m going through that every day,” Durant said. He averaged 29.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists before getting hurt. “It’s slow, but I’m looking forward to ramping things up.”
Durant paced the Nets to Game 7 of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, where they were eliminated by the eventual NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks are +550 to repeat, followed by Harden and the Joel Embiid-'s 76ers (+600) and the 10/1 Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.
“A lot of teams have talent and winning a championship is obviously the goal,” Durant told reporters Saturday. “But there are proper steps we have to go through to get there. And things have been on pause for a bit. I know the losses have hurt us and I know my injury has hurt the team not being around.”
Durant made a point of not picking Harden for “Team Durant” in the All-Star meeting against LeBron James’ team. The celebrated union with Harden lasted only 16 unspectacular games.
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And while there’s repeat great expectations for Simmons, the Harden catastrophe proves NBA chemistry is a delicate balance.
“The only thing I can say about the Nets is maybe they shouldn’t be the favorites,” SuperBook Las Vegas director Jay Kornegay said.
SuperBook Las Vegas has the Nets posted at 7/1 — even with the Bucks and 76ers.
Meanwhile, Tipico Sportsbook spokesman Sunny Gupta defended the Nets’ position.
“Being the title favorites while on an 11-game losing streak may seem unusual to the casual fan. But it is reminiscent of the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers, who finished fourth but were the favorites to represent the East in the Finals,” Gupta said. “This Nets team is loaded with veterans (Durant, Irving, Patty Mills) and the addition of Simmons brings some much-needed defensive intensity to the team.”
The Nets, 12-14 at home, trail the Heat by 7.5 games. While Brooklyn has sunk during its losing skid, the Heat have won five consecutive games one season removed from an NBA Finals appearance.
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