Of all the teams in the Eastern Conference you could have selected for the playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers were probably at the bottom of the list. The Nets were expected to compete for the No. 1 seed as the preseason title favorite, but an injury to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving’s vaccination status and an unexpected trade claim from James Harden led them to the No. 7 seed.
The Cavs, on the other hand, had meager expectations after finishing with the fourth worst record in the NBA last season. They have been a fantastic story, led by breakout performances from Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley, along with a huge defensive turn triggered by head coach JB Bickerstaff.
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The teams took opposite paths to get here, but they meet on Tuesday with the winner earning the right to face the No. 2 seeded Boston Celtics in the first round, and the loser goes on to an elimination match on Friday against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.
Here’s a look at the start time, TV information and odds along with three things you need to know for the play-in match.
(7) Brooklyn Nets Vs. (8) Cleveland Cavaliers
- When: Tuesday, April 12 | 19:00 ET
- Where: Barclays Center – Brooklyn, New York
- TV: TNT | Live stream: TNT
- Odds: BKN -420; CLE +320; O / U 228.5 (via Caesars Sportsbook)
Featured game | Brooklyn Nets Vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Total assault from KD and Kyrie
If the Brooklyn Nets somehow have to cope with their favorite status in advance despite the injuries, trades and drama associated with this season, it’s going to come down to two players: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They are both capable of scoring more than 50 in any given game, and they may have to give up the lack of offensive firepower on the rest of Brooklyn’s list. Durant averaged nearly 30 points this season, and Irving averaged 27.4 points. The second highest scoring average on the team was Seth Curry’s 14.7 and he has only played 19 games with the team.
So yes, KD and Kyrie will have to score, but they will also be tasked with facilitating when Cleveland sends doubles and traps after them. Durant is more than skilled as a passing player, as evidenced by his career-high 16 assists in a win over the Indiana Pacers on the final day of the regular season. When Durant recorded nine assists or more this season, the Nets had a record of 9-2 compared to a record of 7-6 when he scored 35 points or more. It’s an indication of how important it is for Durant to get his teammates involved on Tuesday against the Cavs, and does not necessarily seem to take over as a goal scorer early.
When Durant and Irving have played together this season, they have been virtually unstoppable offensively. After the James Harden deal, the Nets scored an incredible 123.6 points per 100 ball possessions with Durant and Irving on the floor. It is difficult for any defense to accommodate, let alone one that will be lacks its primary rim protector due to Jarrett Allen’s finger injury.
Nets coach Steve Nash has never been afraid to play his stars in big minutes, so you better believe Durant and Irving will be on the field for most of Tuesday’s matchup. That means they should both line up incredible numbers with the No. 7 seed on the line. And if it comes down to the last possessions, Durant is one of the league’s best clutch players who has come through time and time again in the off-season.
2. Garland, LeVert must be amazing
Before Allen’s injury, the Cavs won largely because of their defense, which was fourth in the NBA at the time. In the 18 games since the big man went down, however, Cleveland had the 22nd ranked defense in the league and a record of 7-11. This is all to say that in order to beat Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets on Tuesday, they will have to score … a lot.
The good news is that the Nets are a great team to try to score against, 20th in the league for the regular season with a defensive rating of 112.3. For all the credit Durant deserves offensively, he is also crucial to the Brooklyn defense, whose rating is four points worse when Durant sits. If Nash chooses to give his star player even the smallest amount of rest, it is important that the Cavs take advantage.
It’s going to start with Garland, a breakout All-Star this season that averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 assists on a 46/38/89 shot split. Cavs’ offensive rating improves by over 10 points per game. 100 possessions when Garland is on the floor, so he will have to be in top form to keep up with the Nets’ scoring attack.
However, since Garland has gone on the bench, things have fallen off a cliff. He probably won’t sit much on Tuesday, but when he does, it’s up to mid-season acquisition Caris LeVert to carry the offensive torch. That has not happened so far this season, as the Cavs have only mustered a paltry 103.4 points per 100 balls in 173 minutes with LeVert on the field and Garland on the bench. The Cavs need to be very careful not to lose control of the game when Garland gets his rest.
With Garland and LeVert on the field together, however, the Cavs have been dynamic offensively, garnering 118.4 points per 100 possessions. It may just be enough to keep up with the Nets, but both Garland and LeVert will have to be at their game.
3. Evan Mobley, X-factor
It’s hard to predict how rookies will perform in the off-season, but everything we’ve seen from Mobley, a Rookie of the Year favorite, indicates he won’t shrink at the moment. Provided Durant, Irving, Garland and LeVert all come out with their A-games, Mobley could be the swing factor in Tuesday’s matchup.
With Allen out, Mobley will be tasked with protecting the rim against KD and Kyrie, who are both skilled finishers, while keeping people like Andre Drummond and Nicolas Claxton away from the offensive glass. It’s not a simple task, and then the Cavs will probably also need him to score to keep up with Brooklyn’s attack. The Cavs were 4-1 this season as Mobley scored 24 or more points and they might just need that kind of effort from him if they are to win on Tuesday.
There should be plenty of scores in this one, with Allen unable to fit in, so get your popcorn ready. The Cavs have just been too poor defensively in recent weeks to slow down the Durant-Irving offensive barrage, so the Nets will eventually retire for the win. That said, it should be close to the stretch, so the Cavs need to cover the relatively large spread. Choice: Nets ML, Cavs +8.5