The Nets and Knicks are about to face off for the first time this year, and the matchup is actually a few years in the making.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the Knicks were seen as the favorite to land the cream of the 2019 free agent crop: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
“New York is the mecca of basketball and we hear from people all the time, from players, from representatives about who wants to come,” Knicks owner James Dolan said at the time. “I can tell you from what we’ve heard, we’re going to have a very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.”
That didn’t work out as planned, as Durant and Irving spurned the Knicks to sign with the Nets. Why? Well, according to at least one NBA player, it was because the Knicks are run by Dolan.
“Let’s be honest, if the Knicks are run right, the Knicks get [Durant and Irving] easily,” Jared Dudley told The Athletic. “It’s not even close. If the Knicks are run halfway decent, they get KD and Kyrie.”
Tonight, then, marks Durant’s first MSG appearance as a Net, and while Irving will be out for “personal reasons,” the matchup still tilts heavily toward the Nets, with Brooklyn a 6-point favorite across most of the NJ online sportsbooks, although they’re at 5.5 at BetMGM. The consensus over/under is 218.5.
Nets struggling, Knicks inspired
While the Nets are legitimate title contenders this year despite scruffing along to a 6-6 record thus far, the Knicks, under new coach Tom Thibodeau, are playing some of the most competitive basketball the Garden has seen in some time.
One key difference between Thibs and the rest of the NBA coaching fraternity is that he truly believes in giving his best players all the minutes they can handle. As a result, R.J. Barrett currently leads the league with an astounding 37.9 minutes a game, and Julius Randle isn’t far behind in fourth place at 37.1. But the two players have been on different trajectories thus far, with Barrett shooting an equally astounding .365 from the floor. Randle, on the other hand, is averaging an MVP-consideration-worthy 22/11/7 (he’s at +10000 for the award on DraftKings) and is finally having his long-awaited breakout season. Randle is also +1200 to win the league’s Most Improved Player, according to FanDuel, though right now Christian Wood of the Rockets is the favorite at +170.
Julius Randle now has 4 games with 25 points and 10 rebounds this season. That's the most such games by a Knicks player in the team's first 8 games since Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing's 5 in the 1990-91 season. pic.twitter.com/GQz6MdbcN2
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 7, 2021
On the Nets’ side of the ball, the dynamic duo of Durant and Irving have only managed to be on the court together for half the team’s games, Durant due to health protocols and Irving due to who-knows-what.
And despite their slow start, the Nets have risen at some books to be the second-favorite team to win the NBA championship. They started the season at +600 on DraftKings and are now +500, trailing only the Lakers at +230.
Interestingly, while the Nets have lower odds than the Bucks (+550) to win the title, the Bucks (+230) are favored over the Nets (+250) to win the Eastern Conference.
Durant moving up
Durant has also moved up in the MVP race, currently at +800 at DK compared to +1200 to start the season. Luka Doncic at +400 and Giannis Antetokounmpo at +450 remain the favorites. Additionally, Caris LeVert is currently at +500 on DraftKings to win the NBA’s 6th Man Award.
While the Nets are expected to make the playoffs easily — DraftKings isn’t even offering a “make the playoffs” prop for them right now — the Knicks are coming in at a mildly surprising +600. They’re currently ninth the Eastern Conference standings and have generally looked like a team that is going to be in the mix if they stay healthy.
And if both the Nets and Knicks make the playoffs, it will mark the first time that’s happened since the 2012-2013 season. And get this: If they both manage to get to the second round of the playoffs, it will mark the first time that’s occurred since the 1983-84 season. The New York tabloids can dream, right?