After 82 regular-season games, it’s time for the NBA play-in tournament to determine the 7th and 8th seeds in each conference.
In the Eastern Conference, the 7th seed Brooklyn Nets will host the 8th seed Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night. The winner will face the 2nd seed Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The Nets took 3 out of 4 games against the Cavs this season.
Here’s how we got here and what we can expect when the Nets and Cavs square off tonight.
NBA Play-In Tournament Preview: Brooklyn Nets vs Cleveland Cavaliers
A Rollercoaster Season for Both Teams
After a heartbreaking loss to last year’s NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks in the 2nd round of the playoffs, the Nets were still considered the preseason favorites to win the Eastern Conference this season. Things unraveled pretty quickly from the jump. The Nets played for nearly 5 months without Kyrie Irving, traded James Harden to a division opponent, and dealt with injuries and roster uncertainty all year. Despite their struggles, Kevin Durant and Irving have helped the Nets climb from the 10th seed to the 7th seed over the last 2 weeks of the regular season.
The Cavs, on the other hand, began the season in a surprising fashion as one of the hottest teams in the league, despite losing Collin Sexton to a season-ending injury in November. The Cavs have been led by two of the most exciting young players in the league, Darius Garland and likely Rookie of the Year Evan Mobley. Jarrett Allen was having a career-best season before injuring his finger. Unfortunately, the former Nets center remains sidelined for Tuesday’s game.
Keys to a Cavs Victory
- Push the pace and take advantage of their youth. The Nets rank 20th in defensive rating and have one of the oldest rosters in the league. The Cavs need to get out quickly in transition to have a realistic chance at out-scoring the Nets. Without Allen dominating the paint, this won’t be easy.
- Win the battle of role players. Kevin Love and former Nets wing Caris LeVert need to step up to take pressure off of Garland and Mobley.
- Defensively the Cavs need to shut down one of Durant/Irving and force the Nets to lean on their role players, where the Cavs have a slight edge. Cavs’ veteran guard Rajon Rondo could play a huge part in limiting Irving’s production, and they’ll need him to.
Keys to a Nets Victory
- Huge games from Durant and Irving will be important here. They’re two of the most lethal offensive players in the league and virtually un-guardable. They’re also both gifted distributors of the ball. Durant just posted a career-high 16 assists against the Pacers on Sunday night – proof that even if you get the ball out of his hands, he’s still creating offense for others.
- Guards Seth Curry (ankle) and Goran Dragic (COVID) are both returning for Tuesday’s game. Both are crucial for bolstering the Nets’ depth and perimeter shooting to take pressure off of Durant and Irving.
- Win the rebound battle. Andre Drummond must stay out of foul trouble and take advantage of Jarrett Allen’s absence. If this game is close, it’ll be decided on the glass.
Nets vs Cavs Play-In Tournament Prediction
The Nets should win this game. They probably will win this game. They rose to the occasion over the last few weeks of the regular season to secure home court for this game.
Timing is everything in the NBA. If these two teams squared off in a single-elimination game any time between October and February, the Cavs would have had the edge, regardless of where it was played. Unfortunately, the Cavs’ arrow is pointing down at the wrong time.
A healthy, hungry Kyrie and Durant playing on their home floor in front of a sold-out crowd at the Barclays Center will be too much for the Cavs to overcome.
Prediction Nets 118 – Cavs 112
Embed from Getty Images