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The Nets A Hot Bet? by Jeremy Martin
Not even Mardi Gras gumbo has such a wide mix of flavors.
Your main ingredient is Jason Kidd - one of the best guards to ever play the game. Then you add in Vince Carter, a troubled superstar that has been heavily criticized for an alleged lack of passion to play hard every night. Top that off with a coach -- Lawrence Frank -- that looks like he is barely old enough to drive. Mix in a laundry list of injuries and an always-changing lineup and what do you have?
You have the New Jersey Nets, a team that could quite possibly make the playoffs. You also have a team that has been helping bettors earn quite a bit of cash. The Nets are 15-9 against the spread since Carter took the court in December and they have also covered 11 of their last 14 overall.
The Nets have been one of the hottest teams in the East as of late and they are making a serious charge for one of the eight playoff spots available in the Eastern Conference. If this team does make the playoffs, they could be an enigma in a conference that has only two teams - Miami and Detroit - that anyone gives a real chance of reaching the NBA Finals.
Last month any talk of the playoffs would have elicited extreme laughter from all but die-hard Nets fans. In mid January this team was sitting at 12-24 and any hopes of the postseason looked dismal - even in the Atlantic Division, the NBA's worst grouping. Now the Nets are 21-28 and they have a realistic shot at the playoffs if they keep playing well. They are just 2 ½ games behind Indiana, which currently has a tenuous hold on the eighth and final playoff seed in the East.
There are currently eight teams fighting for the final three playoff spots in the East. As it looks right now, the top five teams have established a solid position. This next month will likely see a couple of these squads break away from the pack. With the Nets current roster and the way they have been playing, they could be one of the teams to make a late season surge. The Nets have already leapfrogged New York and Toronto, but there are still several teams ahead of them that have been playing better basketball as well (Boston and Philadelphia most notably).
One has to look at the acquisition of Carter from the Raptors as a key in the turnaround. This team started off the season with Kidd on the injured list, but even after he returned he didn't have a solid compliment like Carter. Richard Jefferson, currently out of the lineup for the rest of the regular season with a wrist injury, is a budding star in the league, but he will never have the raw talent that Carter possesses. The team has been playing much better as a unit with Carter in and Jefferson out of the starting five.
Carter has flourished with the Nets. His statistics across the board have increased. A player like Kidd can bring out the best in a player like Carter. The much-maligned superstar never seemed happy in Toronto and his many critics accused him of not giving 100 percent every night. Whether that was true or not, Carter now seems to have found a home where his natural talents can be unleashed.
Last night in an overtime loss to the Lakers, Carter missed two crucial shots that could have won the game for the Nets. But he will make those types of big plays more often than not.
The Nets will play eight of their next 11 at home. They have chance to make up some serious ground if they can win most of these home games. Besides tomorrow's game against the Spurs and an early March contest with the Heat, the Nets should be favored in most of these contests.
Will New Jersey continue to be profitable for bettors? That is not entirely up to the team - that question will be largely answered by the oddsmakers. The Nets have been covering a lot of games in an underdog role but now that they are transitioning into a favorite role. It will be interesting to see if they continue to be a hot team against the number. The oddsmakers are quick to adjust when a team gets hot. They are not in the business of posting weak lines.
I think New Jersey will continue to be a hot ATS team, however, and they could very well wind up a seventh or eight seed in the playoffs. That would likely mean a first-round matchup with Miami or Detroit. But with the new NBA playoff format, an Atlantic Division championship would mean a No. 3 seed and a much more manageable first round pairing. The Nets are only 3 ½ games behind Boston, which leads the division with a 25-25 record.
This team is at long odds at most books to win the NBA Finals. Although it is a long shot it could be worth a small bet because stranger things have happened.