Though it’s not exactly Golden State’s storied “Death Lineup” of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, the recent starting five for the Brooklyn Nets has been earning a profit vs. betting markets.
Since Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert coalesced as the starting lineup Feb. 3, the Nets are 5-2-1 straight up in regulation, having covered all but one point spread after 48 minutes. Backers took a bad beat in overtime in Philadelphia last week, then lost to Orlando on Monday when the bench performed poorly; no starter had a negative plus/minus.
Entering the week, the Brooklyn quintet had the best net efficiency performance of any NBA five-man group during its time together. That’s not surprising when you see great efforts against playoff-bound Toronto (twice) and Philadelphia, along with blowouts of Phoenix, Golden State and Charlotte.
At the end of regulation, the Nets beat market expectations by 19.5, 34.5, 5.5, 7.5, 14, 7 and 25 points with that group of starters before Monday’s loss to Orlando.
The NBA world was caught napping when Kyrie Irving left the lineup with an injury. It’s not that Irving is that much worse than other starters. But the team has performed much better without him. Among the reasons:
— Defense: On/off stats show the Nets are allowing about 106 points per 100 possessions this season when Irving is off the floor, according to nba.com, but a woeful 115.2 points when he’s playing. Not only is he known as an uninterested defender, but that lack of effort is a contagion that can spread to teammates who get tired of covering for him. With the new starting lineup, Brooklyn is holding opponents to an average of just 100.4 points in regulation. It’s easier to cover spreads in the modern NBA if opponents struggle to reach the century mark.
— Attitude: New York recently celebrated the eighth anniversary of “Linsanity,” which still resonates despite its short duration. That was a great example of what can happen when a young talent, in this case Jeremy Lin, goes all out every night to prove he belongs while facing opponents at three-quarter speed because they’re pacing themselves before the playoffs or tanking for draft position. Right now in Brooklyn, the whole team seems to be playing with that level of intensity. It could become “Win-sanity” if this unheralded group keeps getting results.
Orlando showed up with motivation. Others will too. But Brooklyn still has a great chance to beat market expectations against coasting contenders or unfocused dregs as long as its first five on the floor remain healthy and emphasize defense.
Handicap the regular season accordingly. Then be wary of a first-round playoff opponent that comes in focused and at full speed.