Christmas Day is a special tradition in the NBA. This year’s slate features five games and showcases the best talent in the league.
The marquee matchup is at 8 p.m. on ABC when Lebron James and the Lakers host the Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers. We will offer up a pick for all five NBA games on Christmas Day, in chronological order, beginning with the defending champion Raptors hosting the Celtics.
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I’m impressed with the improvements Boston has made since the beginning of the season. Their depth and talent is almost unmatched in the East and has emerged as the next best team behind Milwaukee as teams sprint past the quarter pole of the season. The Celtics are doing it with depth, and have five players averaging at least double-figures in scoring per game. They could use Marcus Smart back in the fold. Smart continues to miss time with an eye injury but should be back relatively soon. Boston can get by without him on Christmas Day, as they are facing a Toronto team that has been shredded by injuries. Kyle Lowry has picked up his game in the absence of Gasol, Siakama, and Powell, but he can only do so much. I fear for the Raptors season if those three injured Raptors miss significant time, which it appears they will. The line here is pretty telling, and the fact that a 21-win team is giving points at home tells me they are a fade in this spot. Boston defense shuts down a gimpy Toronto offense and the Celtics win on Christmas Day.
PICK: Celtics -2.5
The line here is very telling. Despite having the best record in the NBA, looking almost unbeatable at times, the Bucks opened as a slight underdog on this Christmas Day matchup in Philadelphia. That tells me the books think this is going to be a very evenly matched game featuring two teams with Finals aspirations. Another trend to keep an eye on, the favorites are 8-2 ATS on Christmas Day the last two seasons. There does seem to be a distinct advantage to playing a home game on this day, which is why I like Philly in this spot. Another reason, the lack of a zone defense from Milwaukee. During the Sixers’ recent three-game losing streak, teams were employing a zone defense against them, to try and isolate Philly’s lack of perimeter offense. It worked very well, as the Sixers averaged just 97.0 points per game during the skid. The Bucks have not shown any zone defense looks so far this season. It’s not totally out of the question that head coach Mike Budenholzer could install such a scheme during the team’s practice sessions, but that’s unlikely. I’ll trust my guy and back the oddsmakers here in capping this game correctly.
PICK: Sixers +2.5
I don’t like this matchup at all for Golden State. The Rockets remember what happened in the Western Conference Finals the last two years in a row, and they will have no issues kicking the Warriors when they’re down. Houston is clearly the better team this season and has a legit chance to make another run at the Finals. The big number does scare me a bit, as I tend to favor the home teams on Christmas Day, who are 8-2 ATS in the last two years. However, this feels like a good spot to buck that trend, as Houston will not hold back and will take pleasure running up the score in the Warriors building. The Rockets play at the 2nd fastest pace in the league, and I don’t think Golden State can keep up. If you’re interested in playing any props James Harden’s points prob is 37.5 on FanDuel, and it seems like a fair number considering he is averaging 38.6 points per game this season.
PICK: Rockets -11
When these teams played on opening night, it was a very evenly matched game, with both teams holding a double-digit lead at one point. The difference in the game was the Clippers shooting 51.9% from the floor and their fourth-quarter defensive effort, holding the Lakers to just 17 points. I think we will see a similar type of game this time around, the team that plays better down the stretch will be able to pull away late. Adding Paul George will certainly create another dynamic element for the Clips offense, but the fact that the oddsmakers still set the market with the Lakers as the favorite is enough for me to believe they will get the better of this matchup. Lebron and company have improved their play significantly since the start of the season and I think they have enough to get over the hump here in what should be an entertaining affair in Hollywood.
PICK: Lakers -2.5
The Pelicans are starting to turn a corner on the defensive end. I believe it revolved mostly around the team’s improved play as they fight for head coach Alvin Gentry’s job. The proof is also in the numbers, as New Orleans is holding opponents to just 99.6 points over their last three games. I expect this game to also be low-scoring as Denver plays at the slowest pace in the league. The Nuggets must also defend center Jahlil Okafor, who scored a season-high 26 points the last times these teams met. Okafor will be matched up against Nikola Jokic, who is a solid interior defender. Both teams have been profitable under bets this season with the Nuggets cashing at an impressive 62% clip. I thought the number was a little high when I first saw it, as the last four Pelican games have stayed under this current total of 218.5. Considering the pace, and New Orleans’ renewed focus on the defensive end, this feels like a good spot for the under, but give I’ll take the first-half under instead of the full game, just to avoid any second-half hijinx.
PICK: Under 112 1st half
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