NBA season heads toward Christmas Day games

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For the not-so-hard-core fan, interest in the NBA will begin to develop on Christmas Day when the league will present a quintuple-header to a national TV audience.

By then the season will be more than two months old with many different story lines than on Christmas Day 2016. Then again, there will be other story lines that are repetitive from a year earlier.

Defending Champion Golden State still sits atop the West but does not have the best record in the league. That honor goes to the Boston Celtics who stood 23-5 through Sunday.

Cleveland has overcome a sluggish start to stand 19-8, due largely to a 13 game winning streak that was snapped last Friday. Toronto is 17-7, trailing Boston by four games in the Atlantic Division.

That trio is starting to separate itself from the rest of the conference as the team with the fourth best record, Milwaukee, is 15-10 with Indiana right there at 16-11.

Washington, at 14-12, leads the Southeast Division and is the only team in that Division with a winning record. Golden State is dealing with the absence due to injury of Steph Curry but their roster is deep and his absence for a couple of weeks should not slow down the Warriors who entered this week on a six-game winning streak.

Houston has the best record in the West, 20-4 (the Warriors are 21-6) as the season nears the one third point. The Rockets are a fun team to watch and star James Harden is a more complete player this season, near the top of the league in assists (9.2 per game) while leading the NBA in scoring at 32.1 points per game.

The Pacific Division, in which Golden State plays, is very weak and the Warriors have already established a 10-game lead. The LA Clippers are having a very tough start to their season and the LA Lakers, at 10-15, are in second place.

The Warriors, after three straight trips to the NBA Finals (winning twice) are likely to coast through the regular season, picking their spots for efforts that are up to their potential, and suggesting there may be many opportunities to take generous points with their opponents.

Here’s a preview of three games this weekend.

San Antonio at Houston (Friday): The top two teams in the Southwest Division meet for the first time this season. The Spurs eliminated Houston from the Playoffs last season in six games and took three of four regular season meetings. Houston leads the Division at 20-4 with the Spurs at 19-8 and they rank first and third in the West with Golden State sitting second. San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard was expected to make his season debut earlier this week and his presence will strengthen the Spurs at both ends of the court.

Both teams are rested but each play at home on Saturday against lesser foes although the Rockets will host a pretty good team, Milwaukee. The Rockets are still seeking to make believers of the doubters and will be looking at this game as an opportunity to send a message that last season’s lack of success against the Spurs will not be duplicated and Houston considers itself a legitimate contender. With Leonard still getting assimilated into the rotation the Spurs may need several games to regain peak form. HOUSTON

Utah at Cleveland (Saturday): Cleveland has been playing at their expected level in recent weeks, winning 13 straight before being upset at Indiana on Friday. They immediately started on a new streak the next night with a win over Philadelphia. Utah has also played well of late, winning six straight (five of which were at home) but three in a row through Sunday. Despite that long winning streak the Cavs were just 6-7 ATS in those 13 games and are also just 2-11-1 ATS at home.

Utah is an easy team to overlook as they are not flashy and are overshadowed by a half dozen other teams in the West. The Jazz are off what should have been a tough game at Boston Friday night. This is the end of a four-game homestand for the Cavs, who last played on Thursday but play at Washington on Sunday. Cleveland will likely be solid favorites in this spot, and while they should get the win look for the Jazz to be competitive and have an excellent chance at the cover. UTAH

Sacramento at Toronto (Sunday): These teams met this past Sunday in Sacramento with the Raptors earning a 102-87 win and covering as point road chalk. Toronto has received little attention despite their fine 17-7 record. Only Boston has a better winning percentage in the East. This is a veteran team with plenty of scoring from multiple options. Through Sunday the Raptors were 9-1 at home but just 5-5 ATS. Sacramento started the season going 1-7-2 ATS on the road but started this week on a nice 4-0-1 ATS run.

Considering the line in last Sunday’s meeting, the low scoring nature of that game and the Kings’ improved form there should be some nice value in this quick rematch. It’s nice to back a road underdog that may be taken lightly following a recent defeat to the same foe, and with this line likely at double digits the Kings make for an attractive take. In their recent successful ATS run those last five road games played by the Kings were decided by 7 points or less, including wins at Golden State, Chicago and New Orleans, all taking place after Thanksgiving weekend. SACRAMENTO

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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