One of the most dangerous teams entering the NBA playoffs is the Brooklyn Nets. After entering the season with the league’s highest projected win total (56.5 games), the Nets finished a disappointing 44-38 in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. They now open on the road against the No. 2 seeded Boston Celtics, who bring the league’s top-ranked defense and two legitimate stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Sharps are all over the Nets, believing the Kyrie Irving-Kevin Durant pairing will start to click in the playoffs. The No. 7 seeded Nets actually opened as a betting favorite to win the series in some books.
Here are my best bets for a fascinating series between two teams that are much closer than the records indicate.
Best Bets for Celtics vs. Nets
Jayson Tatum Series Points Leader (+160 DraftKings)
Jayson Tatum has roasted the Nets for 31.2 PPG over the last six contests, including 54 points in their previous matchup on March 6. He finished the year averaging 27.4 PPG in his last 10 games and has eight games with five or more three-pointers made since March 6.
While Kevin Durant is the clear betting favorite (-130) to lead this series in points per game, the Celtics’ dominant switching defense has caused him problems. Despite being a 39.8% 3P shooter on the season, Durant has been held to just 30.8% from deep against Boston in two matchups. He has also failed to break 26 points in four of the last seven games with Kyrie Irving on the court.
The market underestimates Irving’s impact and gives us a friendly price on Tatum as the leading scorer. With four potential games at TD Garden, I’m backing the Celtics versatile forward at +160.
Marcus Smart Series Assists Leader (+115 DraftKings)
The Nets and Celtics’ lack of a traditional point guard has created plus-money values on the top six options to lead the series in assists. I’m backing Boston’s Marcus Smart, who has seven games of eight or more assists since March 1.
As the best defender on the Celtics and a leading candidate for NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Smart will see almost as many minutes as Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown. With defensive stopper Robert Williams still out with a torn meniscus, Boston will need Smart’s presence on the floor as much as possible. Unlike Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, Smart’s role does not necessitate scoring, providing him a more straightforward path towards the series assist crown.
Celtics -130 To Win Series
Boston is significantly undervalued by the public due to the recognizable stars of Brooklyn, but the Celtics’ defense has been the NBA’s best all season. There is a good chance Robert Williams will return for this series, giving Boston another chess piece in this opening-round matchup. Brooklyn has been horrific on defense all season, and I don’t see the simple presence of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving overcoming that deficit.
The general public is shortchanging the star power of Boston, their home-court advantage, and superior defense. The Celtics are also 3-1 against the Nets this season. I still love this bet at -130 for a Celtics team that is a legitimate championship contender.
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