Cavaliers vs. Nets Preview: Back Brooklyn's Stars at Home

Joe Dellera breaks down Tuesday's NBA Play-In Tournament game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets and shares his best bet below.

Cavaliers vs. Nets Odds

Cavaliers Odds +8.5
Nets Odds -8.5
Over/Under 228.5
Time 7 p.m. ET
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The NBA Postseason is officially here, and the first game on our slate is the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Brooklyn Nets.

This is a surprising matchup as neither team was expected to be in the Play-In Tournament coming into the season – the Cavaliers have ultimately outperformed their expectations despite being maligned by injuries all season. The Brooklyn Nets are now whole with Kyrie Irving allowed to play in home games and have climbed into the seventh seed as they will try and secure a playoff spot on their own court.

Although Brooklyn is a significant favorite, can the Cavaliers stand their ground and advance, or will the Nets earn the right to a first round showdown against the Boston Celtics?

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Can the Shorthanded Cavaliers Pull the Upset?

The Cavaliers have been one of the biggest surprises this season. Their win total betting market of 26.5 wins was one of the lowest in the league, and they blew by that with 44 wins this season. Despite this success, can they continue their improbable run despite some absences?

The Cavaliers have suffered a variety of injuries this season and are currently without Jarrett Allen (finger), who may be able to return if the Cavaliers make an extended playoff run. Aside from Allen, they lost Collin Sexton, Ricky Rubio, and Dean Wade for the season. Their resistance is astounding, and they truly have had an excellent season thus far.

The Cavaliers started the season much stronger than they finished. Prior to the All-Star Break, they were the sixth-best team in Adjusted Net Rating (+4.2) with the third-best Adjusted Defensive Rating in the League (105.8).

Now, those numbers have both regressed with a season-long Adjusted Net of +1.9 (13th) and 109.3 Adjusted Defensive Rating (5th). Although the defense is still strong, their offense just cannot score enough, and their season-long Adjusted Offensive Rating is just 20th in the league (111.1).

The loss of Jarrett Allen has been significant, and the Cavaliers have struggled without him – they are just 9-17 in the games he has not played. This is a significant issue because Allen is in all three of the Cavaliers’ most-used lineups this season, all of which have Net Ratings of at least +10.

Their half-court defense is also markedly better with Allen at the five as opposed to Mobley at the five. It’s not that Mobley is a bad defender, it’s just that Mobley and Allen complement each other so well, and when one is off the floor, the defense suffers as a whole.

Durant and Irving Must Carry the Nets

The Nets have listed a few players on their injury report, but Seth Curry (ankle) is expected to play, and Goran Dragic (health and safety protocols) is questionable to play.

The Nets did report that Benjamin Simmons may return during the first round of the playoffs, but he still would miss the Play-In Tournament. Regardless, the sudden addition of Simmons into a rotation would likely require exceptional nuance, and it’s unclear what exactly his role would be upon returning.

The much-maligned Nets’ defense looks improved on the surface with the 11th-best Defensive Rating over the last two weeks and a 5-2 record over that stretch. However, those five wins are against the Pacers, Knicks, Rockets, Pistons, and Cavs (who struggle to score themselves), and the two losses are to the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.

At the end of the day, the Nets will simply try to score more points than their opponent because that’s the name of the game, and their defensive presence is questionable at best.

The key to the Nets’ success is the play of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. When those two are on the floor, the Nets have a +13.2 Point Differential, they score 124.8 points per 100 possessions, and own a 59.4% eFG% – all marks that are in the 98th percentile or better, per Cleaning the Glass.

With those two on the floor, they can actually outscore anyone and are 11-6 on the season. This is a matchup where they should not struggle to score against this damaged Cavaliers’ defense.

Cavaliers-Nets Pick

This matchup is one that would be much more promising had the Cavaliers been fully healthy; however, without their primary rim protector in Jarrett Allen, they will struggle to stop the Nets. These teams played just a few days ago in a game that had significant seeding implications, and the Nets won 118-107.

I expect a repeat performance.

While the large spread in a postseason matchup may give you pause, trust Brooklyn’s offense to take care of business against the Cavaliers and send them to face the winner of Hawks vs. Hornets for the seventh seed.

Pick: Nets -8.5