The Boston Celtics are out to return to the top of the Eastern Conference ahead of the visit of the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.
The Celtics remain the 13/5 favourites for the title, but they have been deposed at the top of the league by the Milwaukee Bucks, who are on a 16-game win streak.
The Celtics have led the Eastern Conference for all but nine days since the start of December, but with the Bucks flying they face a real battle for top seed.
However, the Brooklyn Nets don’t look likely to get in the title favourites’ way, as they continue a slide towards the Play-in tournament.
|What||BKN Nets @ BOS Celtics|
|Where||TD Garden, Boston|
|When||00:40, Saturday, 4th March 2023|
|How to watch||bet365's Sports Live Streaming / NBA Pass|
|Odds||BKN Nets 9/2, BOS Celtics 1/6|
The Boston Celtics face the Brooklyn Nets for the third time in 2023, but each clash has come against a very different Nets team.
When these two went head-to-head in January, the Nets had raced into second and they were flexing their muscles as contenders.
Kevin Durant had picked up an injury just before that game and the Celtics beat a Brooklyn side which had just won 14 of their last 15 games.
When the pair met again in February, the Nets were falling apart and Kyrie Irving scored 20 points in his final turn in a Brooklyn uniform.
Days later they shipped out both Durant and Kyrie, fundamentally changing the makeup and direction of the team.
That means the Celtics face an entirely new Nets side once again, one which is a much more manageable opponent.
While Brooklyn has doubled-down on defensive length and flexibility, that’s not been translating to the court.
The Nets head into this clash having lost four in a row, while they’ve won just once since the trade deadline.
Brooklyn hit a new low on Wednesday night, giving up a franchise-record 71 first-half points in a 142-118 loss to the New York Knicks.
NBA season update: Trade deals reshape championship battle
NBA: Greatest All-Star Games ever
Of the moves the Nets have made, landing Mikal Bridges in the Durant trade looks to be the one with the most potential upside.
Bridges was limited to being a mostly defensive presence in Phoenix, finishing his spell there this season averaging 17.2 points per game.
Bridges has had a breakout in his early Nets career, pushing his nightly average up to 23.4 since moving out east.
He remains a key piece on the defensive end and as a result, he should feature for prolonged periods as the Nets try to shut the Celtics down.
In his time in Brooklyn so far, Bridges has scored over 21 points in every appearance where he’s played more than 30 minutes.
That includes a career-high 45-point night against Miami. Given his importance on both ends expect another 30 minutes for Bridges tonight, so look to back him at 10/11 to score over 21.5 points.
Another player prop option for the Nets is to back Spencer Dinwiddie to clear 6.5 assists at 5/4.
The guard has racked up 26 assists across his last four games and he can dish out a few more tonight having finally got his bearings in his return to Brooklyn.
The Celtics have been priced up as heavy favourites here at 1/6, which seems justified considering how the Nets approach this one.
The spread has been set quite high at 11 points, but it’s also hard to argue with that. The Nets are a side without a clear leading scorer – pushing Bridges to the forefront of their offence – while they’ve been a mess defensively.
However, Boston head into this one having failed to really dominate any game since the All-Star break, so they could fall short of covering.
The Celtics have won three of their four games since the break, but those include an overtime win at the Indiana Pacers, a three-point margin over Philadelphia and a four-point win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Celtics have taken a step back defensively from the heights they hit last season and as a result, we could see a high-scoring game.
While the Nets have issues, the roster they’ve built looks a lot like the Orlando Magic team which caused headaches for the Celtics’ defence earlier this season.
While Boston remain worthy favourites, there looks to be more value in backing over 228.5 points at TD Garden, with both sides facing defensive issues.