The Nets and Cavaliers finished the NBA regular season with identical records of 43-38. It was a great regular season for the Cavs who finished well ahead of their Las Vegas over/under win total (26.5) and a not-so-great regular season for the Nets who finished well short of their 56.5 over/under win total.
But it’s time for the play-in tournament, and the winner of Tuesday’s game in Brooklyn clinches the seventh seed and will play the Boston Celtics in round one of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Nets won the regular-season series 3-1. But the Cavs finished the year 13th in aNET rating, 20th in aORTG, and fifth in aDRTG. The Nets finished 15th, ninth, and 20th, respectively.
Let’s break down who will win this winner-take-all battle for the seventh seed.
Keys to victory
For the Cavaliers to emerge victorious they will need to rely on their defense and young legs to speed the game up and create easy offense. The Nets are an older team and can get very careless with the basketball. If the Cavs play aggressive in the passing lanes and point guard Darius Garland can get out and run with Evan Mobley and Caris LeVert filling the lane and Lauri Markkanen spacing out to three, they will test the Nets’ resolve.
For the Nets it’s a bit easier. Even against a top-five defense, they have the two best players in this matchup in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They are the ultimate make-any-shot against any defense duo in the league. They just need to protect the basketball and give playoff-level effort on defense, and they should win this comfortably.
Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen fractured his left middle finger on March 6. The Cavs went 7-11 in the 18 games Allen missed down the stretch. If he is ready to play on Tuesday he will bolster the team’s defense and will be amped for a game against his former squad in the Nets.
“It’s a structure thing first and foremost. You always want to make sure that it’s as healthy as it possibly can be,” said Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “In his position, the banging that he does, on the rim, like blocking shots, all those things. Then it becomes pain tolerance. Then strengthening and his ability to use that finger. But he’s making steps. It’ll be one of those things where the day will come, and he’ll be ready to go.”
If Allen is unable to go, how Markkanen attacks the Nets’ big men will be an x-factor.
On the Nets side, Nic Claxton’s ability to switch onto smaller players, protect the rim and rebound will be important in deciding the outcome.
Kevin Durant is the best player in the world or at worst third. He will be the best player in this game.
Las Vegas has the Nets as -8.5 favorites. At the end of the day, KD and Kyrie know what it takes to win at the highest level. They are at home and the team will be hyped to get to the playoffs.
Nets 115, Cavaliers 105.