With Christmas Day’s five games the NBA took center stage and started to capture the casual sports fans’ attention for the next five and a half months through June’s NBA Finals.
Of course the season has been underway since the middle of October and within the next two weeks or so half of the 82-game regular season schedule will have been played.
As touched upon in recent columns, the elite teams are positioning themselves again as the teams to beat. After sitting in second place in the West behind Houston for much of the season, defending champion Golden State is now atop the conference standings with a 29-8 record.
Houston had been 25-4 but a five-game losing streak, ended by a double overtime win New Year’s Eve over the LA Lakers, has the Rockets at 26-9 and two games behind the Warriors as 2018 begins. Even by ending that losing streak with that win over the Lakers Houston ended 2017 disappointing backers with a 0-6 ATS run.
Defending NBA Finals runner-up Cleveland starts the new year 24-12, four games behind Boston (30-10) in the East, and having played four fewer games than the Celtics. After dropping three of four the Celtics ended 2017 by winning three straight. Right behind Boston in the Atlantic Division is Toronto. The Raptors have played six fewer games than Boston but have the same number of losses (10), putting another team in the mix for the best team, at least by record, in the East.
Here are three games of interest to be played this weekend.
Minnesota at Boston (Friday): Boston has cooled since its red hot start to the season but still has the best record in the East. Minnesota is 23-14, seeded fourth in the West and won five of six to end 2017. The Timberwolves have one of the most talented rosters in the league but with many young and still developing players.
Boston is well coached under Brad Stevens and has gotten solid on court leadership from Kyrie Irving in his first season after leaving Cleveland. The Celtics are likely to be modestly priced favorites in this game and we’ll use some parameters to make a play, taking +7 or more with the Timberwolves or laying -4 or less with Boston. If the line is in between those numbers look to play the UNDER.
Golden State at LA Clippers (Saturday): Two weeks into the season the Warriors routed the Clippers 141-113 on this court. The Clippers were still getting used to life without Chris Paul and after opening 4-0 proceeded to lose 11 of 12, including the aforementioned 28-point rout. They’ve played better of late, even with oft injured Blake Griffin sidelined for several weeks until returning last Friday. They ended 2017 winning three straight and five of six.
Golden State continues to win and put forth its best effort when the mood strikes. They ended 2017 going just 4-7 ATS despite winning nine of those 11 games. The Clippers should be motivated to atone for that earlier blowout loss and might be home underdogs on the magnitude of the play they got in that first meeting. Both teams are rested after each played on Thursday. LA CLIPPERS
San Antonio at Portland (Sunday): These teams met on this court two weeks ago with San Antonio winning 93-91 as 3-point road underdogs. The Spurs are just starting to gel with Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard now having not played most of the first two months of the season. Entering 2018 at 25-12 the Spurs appear set and able to make a run at the second or third seed in the West. Portland has been disappointing at 18-17, unable to get on a roll.
Damian Lillard still is the centerpiece of the Blazers. He’s been battling a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the last four games and his return for this contest is somewhere between questionable and probable. The preference is to back the Spurs who, despite showing signs of being at the start of a slow decline, still have the talent, experience and coaching to play well on the road, and with their 8-10 start away from home might provide some value, especially with the contrast between that record and their 17-2 mark at home. SAN ANTONIO