Before you can say, “For the love of polio, Kyrie,” the NBA season is upon us, with the Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks … somehow changing roles after 50-plus years.
The Nets have always been — even when they were good, which happened with alarming irregularity — the scrappy underdog to the Knicks, who were the city’s darlings even when they were bad, which, except for a few years in the mid-’90s, happened with alarming regularity.
I mean, Brendan Byrne Arena deep in the swamps of Jersey, or Madison Square Garden in the heart of the city that never sleeps? Come on. Not even a contest.
Of course, in the last few years, the script has been flipped. The Nets moved to hipster heaven in Brooklyn, secured Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Knicks floundered, the Nets then got James Harden, the Knicks hired Tom Thibodeau, and before you can say Freaky Friday, the Nets all of a sudden became the team — really, The Team — and the Knicks became an afterthought.
Except … except the Knicks went a surprising 41-31 last year, and while the Nets’ trio of stars battled injuries and eventually disappointed, the Knicks became … the scrappy underdogs.
I gotta go to a Knicks game this year..
— 🏁 Jamal Crawford (@JCrossover) October 16, 2021
Of course, scrappy underdogging will only get you so far, and the sportsbooks agree, as the Nets — even without their mercurial star Irving (Mercury itself isn’t as mercurial) are still the odds-on favorites to win the NBA championship this year, with +240 being the best odds, currently offered at BetMGM and PointsBet. (Notable: They were +200 as recently as a week ago, but since Irving was banned from the team until he gets the COVID-19 vaccination, the number creeped up.)
As for the Knicks? Not quite the favorite. Try FanDuel at +10000, down in Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans territory.
When it comes to winning the Eastern Conference, you can get the Nets for +105 on PlaySugarHouse and FanDuel, and the Knicks can be had for +4000 nearly across the board.
Breaking things down further, the Nets are the clear favorite to win the stacked Atlantic Division at -250 on Unibet, while the Knicks sit below the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics at +3000 on DraftKings.
Win totals? The Nets are sitting at 55.5, with the over priced at -118 at PlaySugarHouse and Unibet. The Knicks are at 40.5 at both those sites, but the juice is on the over at -134.
Question marks on both rosters
The Nets are a pretty easy team to break down: Will Kevin Durant stay healthy? Will James Harden stay healthy? If the answer to both those questions is “yes,” then the Nets should probably sail over the 55.5 win total number. Of course, if Irving gets the jab, that would be one more arrow in the quiver, slight pun intended. And while the Nets’ star power is certainly bright and shiny, it may be the rest of the pieces that catapult this team from really good to incredibly great, from front-end former superstars Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Paul Millsap manning the middle, to Joe Harris firing three-pointers, to Bruce Brown’s defense, to Patty Mills bringing even more veteran leadership, to James Johnson, who the Nets probably signed specifically to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Eastern Conference finals.
Kyrie Irving speaks pic.twitter.com/So7qwh1r2f
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) October 14, 2021
As for those scrappy Knicks? A lot of it may come down to Kemba Walker. The 31-year-old has been battling injuries, and appears to be on the downslope of his career. But come on — the Bronx native, finally playing for the Knicks at MSG? The Knicks training staff might have to hijack all the cortisone in the five boroughs, but it certainly feels like Walker is going to do everything in his power to muster up a solid season.
Another key player is Derrick Rose, who will back up Walker and, at times, share the court with him. Julius Randle is looking to further improve upon his breakout season, and R.J. Barrett has two seasons under his belt and is already flashing big-time upside. Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson form a serious problem for opposing centers, newly acquired Evan Fournier will be expected to create, and … well, let’s just stop there. It starts getting a little thin. But there is a serious nucleus here, and if the 76ers don’t hire Ted Lasso to soothe the locker room and if the Celtics don’t jell, the Knicks have a definite path to crushing that win total.
Miles McBride, a point guard the Knicks took in the second round, is +10000 to win Rookie of the Year at PlaySugarHouse. The only path here would be big injuries to both Walker and Rose, so let’s not even consider.
On the MVP front is where things get interesting, as the Nets, as expected, hold two big tickets here, with Durant at +800 on FanDuel (the fifth favorite) and Harden — and this might be quite a bargain — at +2500 at Caesars.
As for Irving? You’d have to think the Earth is flat to make this wager, but he can be had for +6000 at PlaySugarHouse.
And the Knicks? You’ll have to keep scrolling down to find Randle, but he’s +10000 on Unibet. And if you really like the hometown narrative, how about Walker for +40000 on PointsBet? Stranger things have happened, right?
Knicks guard Immanuel Quickley is +3000 to win the Most Improved Player Award on DraftKings, and Mitchell Robinson is at +8000 for the same.
The Nets’ Mills is +1500 to win 6th Man of the Year on DraftKings, and Rose is right there at +1700 as well.
Durant is +850 to lead the league in scoring, with Harden at +4000, though Harden, at -125, is the heavy favorite to lead the league in assists.
Add it all up? New York basketball fans have to be delighted with the direction of both these teams.
Photo: Brad Penner/USA TODAY