Cavs-Warriors still an epic battle

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Fans received some great gifts on Christmas with the NBA providing five consecutive games of entertaining action.

Three had exciting finishes with Boston nearly blowing a comfortable lead before holding on against the Knicks getting the long day of hoops action underway.

Cleveland then overcame multiple deficits against Golden State to punctuate the championship they won last June over the Warriors with a Kyrie Irving basket with 4 seconds remaining to win 109-108.

And after a couple of double digit wins by San Antonio over Chicago and Oklahoma City over Minnesota, the evening ended with the LA Lakers rallying from a third quarter double digit deficit to defeat their co-tenants, the LA Clippers, for their first win in 12 meetings against what has been the better team in Staples Center over the past few seasons.

As the New Year approaches, seven teams have won at least 20 games and, not surprisingly, five of them are in the stronger Western Conference.

Defending champion Cleveland has the best record in the East, 23-6, two games better than Toronto (21-8). The Cavaliers and Raptors have established themselves as the best teams in the East where only Boston (18-13) is more than four games over .500 following the Christmas Day action.

Despite Sunday’s loss to Cleveland, the Golden State Warriors have the best record both in the West and overall in the NBA, 27-5. That is good enough for a five-game lead in the Pacific Division over another 20-win team. After their loss to the Lakers on Sunday, the LA Clippers are still a solid 22-10 even though they are without Blake Griffin for perhaps as much as another month.

The best Divisional race in the NBA is in the Southwest Division as three teams have won at least 20 games, led by San Antonio at 25-6. The Spurs started this week with a three-game lead over Houston (22-9) with Memphis 5.5 games behind (20-12).

Oklahoma City (19-12) holds a one-game lead over Utah (18-13) in the Northwest Division. The Jazz had been playing very strong basketball prior to a three-game losing streak just before Christmas. But it can be feast or famine for the Jazz who earlier this season had lost four in a row. But Utah also has had a pair of four-game winning streaks.

If you sense scoring has been up thus far this season you would be correct.

Through the Christmas Day games, NBA play produced 244 OVERS and just 211 UNDERS in addition to four pushes. That’s 53.6 percent OVER. Games have averaged 208.8 total points per game. Ignoring overtime points, that still works out to an average of 207.3 ppg in regulation play. Through Christmas Day last season, teams combined to average just 201.7 ppg (200.4 through the end of regulation) and there were just 193 OVERs, 233 UNDERs and nine pushes (54.1 percent UNDER).

With scoring being up significantly it makes for a more entertaining game for fans, especially those who participate in fantasy basketball leagues, which are gaining in popularity each season.

With wishes for a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year, here’s a look at three games this weekend.

LA Clippers at Houston (Fri): Both teams should make the Playoffs again this season as they meet for the first time. The teams split their four games last season with each winning once at home and once on the road. Three of the four went OVER the total. There’s little reason to expect either team will change its style of play for this matchup.

 Both teams have plenty of offense with Houston’s James Harden very much in the early MVP discussion. The Clippers have multiple options and both teams are capable of draining three pointers. It will be a high Total but perhaps not high enough. OVER

Cleveland at Charlotte (Sat): Both teams are Division leaders and each last played on Thursday. Cleveland won both prior meetings, by 7 and 11 points, with both games at home. Cleveland had won five straight and 10 of 11 after defeating Golden State on Sunday. Charlotte had won three in a row prior to resuming play after Christmas.

The number might appear short as the Cavs were favored by just 7 and 7.5 in those earlier home wins, which might make it tempting to back the favorite. But Hornets have played well at home and have been pointing toward this New Year’s Eve encounter. CHARLOTTE

San Antonio at Atlanta (Sun): San Antonio again has the look of a Title contender with its 25-6 start that includes a 16-2 record on the road (12-6 ATS). Atlanta has struggled at 15-15. The addition of Dwight Howard has brought issues, which is surprising to absolutely nobody. The Hawks have played poorly at home of late, losing six of their last seven after starting out at 6-1 at home.

San Antonio is businesslike and will use this matchup as a tuneup for what might be a tougher contest two nights later against the Toronto Raptors. SAN ANTONIO

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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