Nets vs Cavs qualifying game: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving set for scoring onslaught, but can Cleveland keep pace?

Of all the Eastern Conference teams you could have picked for the playoffs, 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 a preseason title favorite, but an injury to Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving vaccination status and unexpected commercial demand for James Harden led them to the No. 7 seed.

The Cavs, on the other hand, had low expectations after finishing with the fourth-worst record in the NBA last season. They have been a terrific story, led by outstanding performances from Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobleyas well as a huge defensive turnover triggered by head coach JB Bickerstaff.

The teams took opposite paths to get here, but they will meet on Tuesday with the winner earning the right to face the No. 2 seed Boston Celtics in the first round and the loser advances to a playoff game on Friday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between the Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Hawks.

Here’s an overview of the start time, TV info and odds, plus three things to know for the play-in game.

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

  • When: Tuesday April 12 | 7 p.m. ET
  • Or: Barclays Center – Brooklyn, New York
  • TV: DTT | Direct: DTT
  • Odds: BKN-420; KEY +320; O/U 228.5 (via Caesars Sportsbook)

Featured Game | Brooklyn Nets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

1. KD and Kyrie All-Out Assault

If the Brooklyn Nets are to somehow maintain their status as a preseason favorite despite the injuries, trades and drama associated with this season, it will come down to two players: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They are both capable of scoring 50+ goals in any game, and they may have to do so given the lack of offensive firepower on the rest of Brooklyn’s roster. Durant averaged nearly 30 points this season and Irving averaged 27.4. The team’s second highest average was by Seth Curry 14.7, and he only played 19 games with the team.

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

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. It’s hard to contain for any defense, 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 game. That means they should both put up some incredible numbers with the No. 7 seed on the line. And if it comes down to final possessions, Durant is one of the best clutch players in the league who’s come through. time and time again on the playoff stage.

2. Garland, LeVert Must Be Awesome

Prior to Allen’s injury, the Cavs had largely won on their defense, which was fourth in the NBA at the time. In the 18 games since the big man’s fall, however, Cleveland had the league’s 22nd-ranked defense, and a 7-11 record to go with it. All that to say, 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 and 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 Brooklyn’s defense, whose rating is four points lower when Durant sits. If Nash chooses to give his star player any rest, it’s essential the Cavs take advantage of it.

It will start with Garland, a breakout All-Star this season who averaged 21.7 points and 8.6 assists in 46/38/89. The Cavs’ offensive rating improves by more than 10 points per 100 possessions when Garland is on the floor, so he’ll need to be in top form to keep pace with the Nets offense.

When Garland went to the bench, however, things went off a cliff. He probably won’t sit much on Tuesday, but when he does it will be until the mid-season acquisition. Caris The Green to carry the offensive torch. So far, that hasn’t happened this season, as the Cavs have a meager 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 rests.

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

3. Evan Mobley, X Factor

It’s hard to predict how the rookies will fare in the playoffs, but everything we’ve seen of Mobley, a rookie of the year favorite, indicates he won’t be shrinking just yet. Assuming Durant, Irving, Garland and LeVert all bring their A-game, Mobley could be the swing factor in Tuesday’s game.

With Allen out, Mobley will be tasked with protecting the rim against KD and Kyrie, who are both capable finishers, while keeping the likes of AndrĂ© Drummond and Nicolas Claxton out of the offensive glass. It’s no simple task, and the Cavs will likely need him to score as well in order to keep pace with Brooklyn’s offense. The Cavs were 4-1 this season when Mobley scored 24 or more points, and they may need that kind of effort from him if they want to win Tuesday.

Prediction

There should be plenty of stitches in this one with Allen unable to dress himself, so get your popcorn ready. The Cavs have simply been too poor defensively in recent weeks to slow down the Durant-Irving offensive barrage, so the Nets will eventually pull out for the win. That being said, he should be closed on the stretch, so the Cavs should cover the relatively large gap. Picks: Nets ML, Cavs +8.5

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