After months of inconsistency, the Brooklyn Nets became the hottest point-spread team in the NBA heading into the All-Star break. They resume action Thursday at Philadelphia (8 p.m., TNT) with a chance to make a real statement against a conference rival with the league’s best home record.
Complicating matters for handicappers and bettors is that the Nets turned into that short-term juggernaut after Kyrie Irving left the lineup because of a knee injury.
From Feb. 3-11, short-handed Brooklyn:
— Got the money twice vs. red-hot Toronto. The Nets covered by 5.5 points in a tight road loss and by 14 in a 10-point home win. The Raptors were making a strong case as second best in the East but struggled vs. Brooklyn.
— Beat playoff-bound Indiana outright on the road 106-105 as underdogs of 6.5 points.
— Won laughers over Phoenix and Golden State by 22 and 41 points, respectively, covering by 19 and 35.5 points.
That’s 4-1 straight up, 5-0 against the spread, with an average cover of 16.3 points. The average is still a gaudy 11.5 points if you throw out Golden State’s tank job.
This creates a challenge for bettors confronted with a counterintuitive. How do you handicap a team that seems to improve significantly without its so-called best player? Especially when that player may now miss the rest of the season because of a lingering shoulder injury?
— With Irving, the Nets are 8-12 straight up and against the spread. That includes poor 1-8/2-7 records against opponents likely to make the playoffs. Offensive machinery often grinds to a halt at the worst possible times. Crunch-time defense disappears.
— Without him, the Nets are 17-16 straight up, 18-15 against the spread. But obviously the marks were uglier before that five-game surge just before the break. Notable in that point-spread rampage is that a healthy and motivated Caris LeVert started posting numbers again.
For now, the Nets could offer significant betting value if oddsmakers and sharps don’t acknowledge how well the remaining roster can perform without Irving. They will be decent-sized underdogs in Philadelphia because the Sixers are 25-2 straight up at home — better than league powers Milwaukee at 25-3, the L.A. Clippers at 22-5 and the Lakers at 18-7. All they have to do is hang close to cover.
That’s followed by a manageable stretch at Charlotte, vs. Orlando, at Washington and at Atlanta. Brooklyn has blowouts against that class with or without Irving.
The Nets are as fresh as can be, which is important when bench players must pick up the minutes of a missing starter. Chemistry appears to peak when Irving is away. Betting markets have power-rated the Nets as generic non-contenders without Irving. That cocktail of ingredients should create betting value until Irving can play again.
If he’s back on the floor this season, bettors must then anticipate his likely impact on investment potential. Picking winners is always a mix of evaluating team quality and market perceptions.