Big Xmas card as usual

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The NBA season got underway Tuesday night and the Association will again treat us to five Christmas Day games this Friday.

When last we saw the NBA in action, 23 teams participated in the playoffs that ended in mid-October. The games were all held in the “bubble” in Orlando with virtually no fans in attendance, making it a truly neutral court for all teams, including the Orlando Magic.

Overall, the bubble was a success with little interference from the Covid-19 virus to disrupt the action. Games will now be played at home venues with the exception of Toronto which, due to Canadian COVID-19 restrictions, will be based in Tampa for the foreseeable future. Attendance will be extremely limited in arenas where fans are permitted.

Basketball is arguably the sport most impacted by crowd noise, owing to smaller arenas relative to ballparks or stadiums and the fact that with roofs the court is an enclosed area in which crowd noise is amplified.

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I’m of the thought that without much in the way of fans in attendance, road teams will have more success than in past seasons when playing in front of a generally hostile audience. Let’s monitor results for the first two or three weeks in terms of both S/U and ATS success of road teams to see if there are variances from historical norms.

I wish all our Gaming Today readers a Merry Christmas and here are the picks for Christmas Day

Friday

Pelicans +5 at Heat: After missing a huge chunk of his rookie season due to injury, Zion Williamson is emerging as the franchise player the Pelicans have hoped for. With several new faces including Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams and a new head coach in Stan van Gundy it will take time for the revamped roster to gel.

Meanwhile defending Eastern Conference champion Miami is out to prove last season’s success was no fluke. Jimmy Butler is joined in the backcourt by Avery Bradley and plenty of depth. Coach Erik Spoelstra remains largely underrated when it comes to rattling off names of the best current coaches. His teams are well prepared and their experienced roster sets up nicely for this tipoff spot to their season. HEAT

Warriors +8 at Bucks: Two years ago, this would have been a reasonable prediction for the NBA Finals. But injuries and defections have left the Warriors depleted.

Steph Curry returns after missing almost all of last season due to injury but Kevin Durant is gone and Klay Thompson is again out for the season with a torn Achilles. Top draft choice James Wiseman has generated enthusiasm for the future.

Milwaukee’s early playoff departure was a shock to most. Giannis Antetokounmpo remains the franchise player and is joined by Jrue Holiday, who replaces Eric Bledsoe and is considered an upgrade.  But until we see the Bucks mesh, let’s go with Curry and  Co. on the road getting points. WARRIORS

Nets at Celtics +1: There’s been much hype surrounding the Nets as Kevin Durant makes his long-awaited debut alongside Kyrie Irving and a decent supporting cast. How they’ll fare in a competitive Eastern Conference depends on how both stars gel and how long each stays healthy.

Boston will be without Kemba Walker until at least mid-January and Gordon Hayward is gone. There will be a period of acclimation with new additions Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague.

Coach Brad Stevens is a believer in strong defense. He probably learned something from the preseason game the two teams played the other night and look for the Celtics to make the necessary adjustments as they sort out their lineup. CELTICS

Mavericks +6 at Lakers: Rapidly approaching elite status, Dallas’ Luka Doncic is among the favorites in MVP wagering at just 21 years old. There was much roster turnover in the offseason which could impede early-season performance.

The defending champion Lakers are led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis and added strength and depth in the offseason, remaining the team to beat in the West.

These teams did not meet in the bubble and have not played since last January, having met four times early last season. The Lakers won three of the four by margins of 9, 13 and 15. LAKERS

Clippers -1 at Nuggets: This is an intriguing matchup as Denver overcame a 3-1 deficit to knock the Clippers out of last season’s playoffs in the Western Conference semifinals that ultimately cost Doc Rivers his Clippers coaching gig. It was a tough loss for stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as LA were heavy favorites to advance.

There’s much to like about Denver and the Nuggets are third in the West in Season Win Totals behind the Lakers and Clippers. But this is an opportunity for the Clippers to express their disgust at how last season ended as they seek to give Tyronn Lue the first of many wins as new Clippers coach. CLIPPERS 

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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