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The Eastern Conference will open-up the third annual NBA Play-In tournament and this marks the second year using the current format. Teams seeded No. 7 through No. 10 qualify for the tournament and the outcome will determine the final two teams to make the playoffs in the conference. Meeting in the 7-8 matchup is the Central division Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlantic division Brooklyn Nets.
Cavaliers SIC Health Score - 74.5
The Cleveland Cavaliers have had a disappointing 2021-2022 campaign in terms of health as they have been dealing with injuries to key players since the very beginning of the season. Premier playmaker Colin Sexton was the first to go in just the 11th game of the season after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Players continued to drop like flies throughout the season including key contributors Darius Garland (back), Rick Rubio (ACL), Rajon Rondo (ankle), Caris LeVert (foot), Evan Mobley (ankle), Dean Wade (knee), Lauri Markkanen (ankle) and Jarrett Allen (finger) with the latter unable to recover in time for the play-in tournament.
The rag-tag group managed to compile a 44-38 record, double their win total from the previous year.
With so many injuries, players needed to step-up and no one stepped up their play more than All-Star G Darius Garland (FD $8,900). This season he was able to set career highs in all categories with a stat line of 21.7 points per game, 8.6 assists and 3.6 boards. The most improved facet of his game is his playmaking which he showcased numerous times including dishing 10+ assists in 29 games (42.6%).
Rookie of the Year front runner Evan Mobley (FD $7,800) has stepped into his role flawlessly since arriving to the big show averaging 15.3 PPG and 8.3 REBS but will need to get over a recent ankle sprain that has prevented him from regaining his mid-season form.
Before the ankle injury, Mobley was trying to cushion the loss of defensive marvel C Jarrett Allen who has been sideline since March 6th due to a fractured finger. The Cavaliers will remain without their star center and his absence has begun to show on the court with Cleveland giving up 112+ points in each of the last 4 games to close out the season. Look for Markkanen to start and Mobley to shift to C until Allen can return.
Nets SIC Health Score - 88.7
The Brooklyn Nets began the season with high hopes including the best odds to win the title (+225 at FanDuel) but New York State COVID-19 mandates preventing All-World point guard Kyrie Irving (FD $10,200) from playing in home games coupled with an MCL injury to point producer F Kevin Durant (FD $11,400), the Nets find themselves fighting to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Due to the mandates and recent changes, Irving has played only 29 total games this season (6 home games) but has played exceptional when active averaging 27.4 points per game and just under 6 assists a game.
Although the Duke alum was missed, the Nets have great depth at G leading them to 12 games over .500 with him in and out of the lineup, but the injury to Durant on Jan. 15 derailed the season entirely.
The knee sprain cost the former Supersonic 21 games, with his squad dropping 16 games in that span. The Nets were lost on offense and struggled to maintain an identity with Irving availability in flux and Durant sidelined. Durant hasn’t missed a beat since returning March 3rd, finishing the season as the NBA’s 4th leading scorer (29.9 ppg) and Irving is now allowed to play in home games which has led to a 4-game win streak to end the season.
Newcomer G Seth Curry (FD $5,200) has been nursing an ankle injury but will play through as he has the last couple games. The Nets will need his sharpshooting as premier 3-point threat Joe Harris has missed the majority of the season due to a left ankle issue.
A player that will not be available for the play-in tournament but maybe going forward is two-way forward Ben Simmons. The former 76er has been dealing with a back ailment all season and has just begun to ramp up his basketball activities. The Nets will be looking forward to his debut when he eventually can suit up.
The Nets had higher hopes than this heading into the season but will need to capitalize on a clear health advantage to get them closer to their preseason goal of winning a championship while the Cavaliers must continue to push regardless of their injury riddled roster:
Best FanDuel Injury-based Plays
Nets -8.5 - In each of their last 4 games the Nets have won by over 8+ points including a matchup with the Cavs, the healthier team is flying high heading into the play-in tournament
Andre Drummond O11.5 Rebounds - The hulking center has gone over this number in 3 of the last five games, the Nets only rebounding threat other than Durant