Maybe it's the Brooklyn Nets, and not the new-look Chicago Bulls, who need to prove something on Wednesday night.
The Bulls are the top team in the East with a 27-11 record, and they're one of the best stories in the NBA. The Nets are 2.5 games behind. The Nets and Bulls have met twice this season. One was a 23-point Bulls win, and the other Chicago won in Brooklyn. The Bulls don't have to keep proving who they are. They're good.
The Bulls are getting respect at the betting window. They're 1.5-point favorites at BetMGM over the Nets on ESPN's marquee game of the night.
The Bulls made many additions in the offseason and everyone has meshed well. It's an efficient offense and a good defense with a few DeMar DeRozan buzzer-beaters thrown in. DeRozan is having a monster first season in Chicago. Zach LaVine is also having a clear All-Star season. It's a really good, fun Bulls team.
The Nets are just fine at 25-13, but not yet dominant. It has been a weird season. Kyrie Irving was not with the team after it sent him away because his vaccination status didn't allow him to play in home games, then he was brought back. He has played in just two games but has been fantastic. At some point the James Harden-Kevin Durant-Irving trio will get rolling, even if Irving won't be there for home games.
This would be a fantastic playoff series. Add in the Milwaukee Bucks, and maybe the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, and the East should be fantastically entertaining in the postseason. The Bulls are just the team nobody saw coming in that conversation. On Wednesday night the Nets would probably like to remind everyone why they were the preseason favorites to win it all.
Here's a first look at the sports betting slate for Wednesday:
Knicks tip off ESPN doubleheader
Nets-Bulls is the main attraction, but the first game on ESPN isn't that bad. The Dallas Mavericks go to New York to face the Knicks. The Mavs are 2.5-point favorites.
The Knicks have been a hard team to figure out this season, though they have won four of their last five at Madison Square Garden. The Mavericks are getting hot, having won six in a row, including one Sunday against the aforementioned Bulls and another against Golden State last Wednesday. Luka Doncic in the Garden makes for a fun game. I'll trust the Mavericks' winning streak and take them.
What else is on the schedule?
The highlight of the college schedule is Villanova at Xavier as two top-25 teams meet. Xavier is a 1.5-point favorite. The Wildcats beat Xavier by 13 earlier this season, though that came at Villanova. It's still hard to go against another strong Villanova team.
There are a few interesting college games, including a sneaky tough game for Duke at Wake Forest. Duke is coming off a shocking loss to Miami. Duke is a 5.5-point favorite and that seems a touch high against a 13-3 Wake Forest team that hasn't lost at home.
There's also an afternoon English Premier League match (Norwich City-West Ham), three NHL games and seven NBA games other than Mavs-Knicks and Nets-Bulls. Not a bad schedule.
What's the best bet?
I'm going to go with the Nets as a small underdog. Irving has an ankle injury but isn't expected to miss Wednesday's game, and his inclusion in the lineup makes the Nets scary again. What better way — on national television against the only team ahead in the conference standings — for the Nets to make a statement that they're still the best team in the NBA with their full lineup?