Nets-Cavs play-in game: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving ready for scoring assault, but can Cleveland keep pace?


Of all the teams in the Eastern Conference you could have picked for the play-in games, 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 demand 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’ve been a tremendous story, led by breakout performances from Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley, along with a tremendous defensive turnaround sparked by head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

The teams took opposite paths to get here, but they’ll meet on Tuesday with the winner earning the right to face the No. 2-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round and the loser moving on to an elimination game 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 to know for the play-in matchup.

(7) Brooklyn Nets vs. (8) Cleveland Cavaliers

  • When: Tuesday, April 12 | 7 p.m. 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

1. All-out assault from K.D. and Kyrie

If the Brooklyn Nets are to somehow make good on their preseason favorite status 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’re both capable of scoring 50-plus in any given game, and they just might have to given the shortage of offensive firepower on the rest of Brooklyn’s roster. Durant averaged nearly 30 points this season and Irving averaged 27.4. The next-highest scoring average on the team was Seth Curry’s 14.7, and he’s only played 19 games with the team.

So yes, K.D. and Kyrie will have to score, but they’ll also be tasked with facilitating when Cleveland sends double-teams and traps at them. Durant is more than capable as a passer, evidenced by his career-high 16 assists in a win over the Indiana Pacers on the final day of the regular season. When Durant registered nine assists or more this season, the Nets had a 9-2 record, compared to a 7-6 record when he scored 35 points or more. That’s an indication of how important it is for Durant to get his teammates involved on Tuesday against the Cavs, and not necessarily look to take over as a scorer early.

When Durant and Irving have played together this season, they’ve been virtually unstoppable offensively. After the James Harden trade, the Nets scored an incredible 123.6 points per 100 possessions with Durant and Irving on the floor. That’s tough for any defense to contain, let alone one that will be missing its primary rim protector due to Jarrett Allen’s finger injury.

Nets coach Steve Nash has never been afraid to play his stars for huge minutes, so you better believe Durant and Irving will be on the court for the majority of Tuesday’s matchup. That means they should both put up incredible numbers with the No. 7 seed on the line. And if it comes down to the final possessions, Durant is one of the league’s best clutch performers who’s come through time and time again on the postseason stage.

2. Garland, LeVert need to be great

Prior to Allen’s injury, the Cavs largely won 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 7-11 record to go with it. This is all to say that in order to beat Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets on Tuesday, they’re going to 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’s also crucial to the Brooklyn defense, whose rating is four points worse when Durant sits. If Nash elects to give his star player even the slightest amount of rest, it’s essential that the Cavs take advantage.

That’s going to start with Garland, a breakout All-Star this season who averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 assists on 46/38/89 shooting splits. The Cavs’ offensive rating improves by over 10 points per 100 possessions when Garland’s on the floor, so he’s going to have to be in top form in order to keep pace with the Nets’ scoring attack.

When Garland has gone to the bench, however, things have fallen off a cliff. He probably won’t sit much on Tuesday, but when he does it will be up to mid-season acquisition Caris LeVert to carry the offensive torch. So far that hasn’t happened this season, as the Cavs have only mustered a paltry 103.4 points per 100 possessions in 173 minutes with LeVert on the court and Garland on the bench. The Cavs have to be very careful not to lose control of the game when Garland gets his rest.

With Garland and LeVert on the court together, however, the Cavs have been dynamic offensively, putting up 118.4 points per 100 possessions. That just might be enough to keep up with the Nets, but both Garland and LeVert will have to be on their game.

3. Evan Mobley, X-factor

It’s hard to predict how rookies will perform in the postseason, but everything we’ve seen from Mobley, a Rookie of the Year favorite, indicates that he won’t shrink in the moment. Assuming Durant, Irving, Garland and LeVert all bring their A-game, Mobley could be the swing factor in Tuesday’s matchup.

With Allen out, Mobley will be tasked with protecting the rim against K.D. and Kyrie, who are both proficient finishers, while also keeping the likes of Andre Drummond and Nicolas Claxton off the offensive glass. That’s no simple task, and then the Cavs will likely also need him to score in order to keep pace with Brooklyn’s attack. The Cavs were 4-1 this season when Mobley scored 24 or more points, and they may just need that kind of effort from him if they’re going to win on Tuesday.

Prediction

There should be plenty of scoring in this one with Allen unable to suit up, 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 ultimately pull away for the win. That being said, it should be close down the stretch, so the Cavs should cover the relatively large spread. Picks: Nets ML, Cavs +8.5



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