If you were to look up who has the best odds to win the NBA Title, the Brooklyn Nets would be one of the best at nearly all sportsbooks.
Nearly across the board, they slot in right behind the Phoenix Suns – the best team in the league record-wise.
And if you were not following the NBA this year, one might assume the Nets are at or near the top of the Eastern Conference.
Kevin Durant in March:
Kyrie Irving in March:
— NetsMuse (40-36) (@NetsMuse) March 30, 2022
And assuredly, they will be a tough opening-round opponent.
The only catch is Brooklyn will not have home-court advantage.
That is because the Brooklyn Nets currently sit in 8th place in the Eastern Conference.
Two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and tied with the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.
If the season ended today, the Nets would be in the play-in tournament.
But regardless of their final standing, Brooklyn will be a tall task for any team come playoff time.
Nets’ Two-Headed Monster
There are two reasons why the Nets are still an NBA Title favorite: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Those two also happen to be the reason Brooklyn is staring down the play-in tournament.
Irving is not vaccinated, and because of the vaccine mandates that were implemented in New York City and elsewhere, he could not play in home games and certain away games.
For this reason, Irving has only appeared in 23 out of 76 possible games this year.
Durant, on the other hand, suffered a sprained MCL in his right knee in January.
He missed 21 consecutive contests which brought his total missed games to 27 on the year.
Due to this missed time by their superstars, Brooklyn has only had Durant and Irving on the floor together for 11 games this year.
The Nets are 7-4 in those games, including a 26-point win over the Chicago Bulls, a 29-point drubbing of the Philadelphia 76ers, and a 15-point win against the Miami Heat.
In 738 possessions featuring Durant and Irving in the lineup, Brooklyn has a +10.8 points-per-100-possessions differential, which sits in the 96th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.
Turns out putting two of the greatest offensive players in NBA history on the court together makes an offense hard to stop.
The defense still needs work, but it showed flashes of playoff intensity against Philadelphia when it held them to just 70 points through three quarters.
If the team going against Brooklyn in the first round is not sharp defensively, Durant and Irving will be a major problem.
And could cut short a title run from one of the East’s best.
As mentioned earlier, the defense of the Nets is not championship-caliber.
They allow 112.2 points per game with a defensive rating of 112.9 – both values in the bottom third of the league.
Lineups featuring Durant and Irving allow 113 points-per-100-possessions, which sits in the 41st percentile.
Defense tends to grow in importance come playoff time, so it will be something to monitor.
However, the Nets may have the answer to their defensive woes on the roster.
Ben Simmons is at practice 🚨 pic.twitter.com/kn1CGkFnn6
— Brooklyn Netcast (@BrooklynNetcast) March 25, 2022
And despite his offensive shortcomings, he is an outstanding defensive player.
At 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, Simmons has the size, strength, and athleticism to defend any position.
The variance in size and play-style across those 10 players is truly remarkable.
And Simmons had success against all of them.
He has made two NBA All-Defensive First Teams including a unanimous selection last year.
Ben was also a DPOY finalist last season.
It remains to be seen if Simmons will return to the court at all this year.
But if he does, he will certainly elevate the Brooklyn defense.