LAS VEGAS — With three superstars who tend to be polarizing personalities, the Nets might not be America’s favorite NBA team. Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving inspire a mix of love and hate.
During an eventful weekend in Boston, the Nets were showered with boos and a bottle tossed from the stands at Irving.
But the weekend also showed something else — when the Nets are hot, their offensive firepower is unmatched, so there are a few reasons why Brooklyn is the betting favorite and the team to beat as the playoffs move toward the second round.
“The Nets are going to be power-rated No. 1,” said Jeff Sherman, lead NBA oddsmaker at the Westgate SuperBook.
BetMGM lists the Nets as odds-on favorites to win the Eastern Conference at -105 and NBA title favorites at 2/1.
It’s a much different story with the Knicks, who took a pair of double-digit losses in Atlanta and face an elimination game Wednesday at the Garden. The Hawks hold a 3-1 lead and are priced as -1,400 favorites in the series at the Westgate.
“The Knicks are cooked,” Sherman said. “Julius Randle is a good player, but he played over his head this season. When Derrick Rose is your second-best player at this stage of his career, that’s not the sign of a really good team. I don’t think the Knicks have enough offensive weapons to keep up with the Hawks.”
Offense is never a problem for the Nets, who shredded the Celtics in a 141-126 win on Sunday. Durant scored 42 points, Irving added 39 and Harden finished with 23 points and 18 assists. Durant, Irving and Harden became the first threesome in NBA history to score 95 or more points in back-to-back playoff games.
Rotation depth and defense are a couple of the Nets’ obvious weaknesses, but their scoring strength could be enough to put them over the top.
“Maybe defense doesn’t matter for the Nets,” said VSiN senior NBA analyst Jonathan Von Tobel, who noted Boston averaged 130.1 points per 100 possessions in Games 3 and 4 but still posted a -4.7 net rating due to the Nets dropping a 134.7 offensive efficiency mark over those two games.
After knocking out the Celtics, the Nets will get a true test in a showdown against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, who swept the Heat in the first round. Sherman said he plans to open Brooklyn, which holds home-court advantage as the East’s No. 2 seed, as a -200 series favorite over Milwaukee.
“The Celtics are shorthanded and they have no chance,” Sherman said. “I upped my power rating on the Bucks. I also think the Sixers can give the Nets a good series, but the Nets would be favored over the Sixers.”
If the Nets advance to the East finals, Philadelphia is the likely opponent. The 76ers have a frontcourt stud, Joel Embiid, who could expose another Nets weakness.
“Durant is impossible to stop, and Harden is out there running the point and he’s a tough guy to guard,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “But I think there are teams out there that are better. The Bucks are a dangerous team.”
On the BetMGM odds board, the second choice in the East is Milwaukee (+250), followed by Philadelphia (+280) and Atlanta (30/1). The team to beat in the East is obvious.
Or is it?
“If you listen to [the media], it’s the Nets,” William Hill book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “But I don’t believe it is because I believe it’s wide open. The Bucks and Sixers are playing lights out.”
The Nets’ star power translates to betting action. Sherman said Westgate took a $50,000 wager on Brooklyn to win the NBA championship at +275 before the playoffs.
The Lakers are the second choice to win the title at 5/1. However, Anthony Davis’ uncertain status with a groin injury has the Lakers tangled in what is now a pick ’em first-round series against the resurgent Suns.
“Davis’ injury changes the complexion in the West,” Sherman said. “Now the Clippers are coming back. These things are so fluid. What I say today could be different the next day.”
Sherman will not say the Knicks are coming back from a two-game series deficit. Von Tobel bet on the Hawks before the series and his money still is on Trae Young.
“The Hawks shot a combined 47.7 percent on 65 attempts from 3 in Games 3 and 4, and in their three series wins the Hawks have shot 43.4 percent from beyond the arc,” Von Tobel said. “Many of those 3-point attempts have been wide open, something that has been an issue for the Knicks’ defense, which ranked 28th in frequency of wide-open attempts from 3-point range in the regular season.”
Few bettors will be willing to take a shot on the Knicks’ 150/1 odds to win the East.
“The Knicks had a great year,” Avello said, “and they can build on that for next season.”