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The NBA season is a full two months old and the elite teams continue to separate themselves from the rest of the league as we get a better sense of teams capable of challenging Golden State in the West and Cleveland in the East.

More than a third of the way into the season Houston continues to present the greatest challenge to the Warriors with their NBA best 24-4. Aside from the Warriors and Rockets only 20-10 San Antonio starts this week more than four games above .500 in the West. And with Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker now on the court we can expect the Spurs to solidify their position as no worse than the third best team in the conference.

Boston, Cleveland and Toronto continue to distance themselves from the rest of the field in the East. That trio, much like in the West, are the only teams that start this week more than four games above .500 with Boston holding a slight edge over Cleveland for the top spot in the conference. But let’s not overlook the Raptors who at 20-8 trail Boston by just three games.

The next edition of Gaming Today will be published on Tuesday, the day after Christmas and with timing of the holiday this year rather than preview three games over the weekend let’s take a look at the five games that will be played on Monday, Christmas Day.

Hopefully the results will provide more cash than coal for those who invest in the games but either way they are presented with my best wishes for all readers to have an enjoyable and safe holiday season.

Philadelphia at New York: Both teams are improved over last season with each in position to make a run at qualifying for the Playoffs. Most of New York’s success has been at home where the Knicks are 14-5 as compared to 2-8 on the road – with one of the wins in Brooklyn over the Nets. There is continual concern over the injury issues involving Kristaps Porzingis.

The 76ers start this week 14-14 but are slumping, losing 7 of 10 after going 11-4 following an 0-3 start. This is their first meeting this season and with the Knicks performing so well at home (14-5 ATS) the preference is to back the hosts who have a long history of playing at home on Christmas Day.

Cleveland at Golden State: The teams that met in the NBA Finals in each of the past three seasons meet in the first of two regular season game. The next will be out west in mid January. Golden State has won two of the three NBA Titles versus the Cavaliers including last season. Steph Curry starts this week still out with an ankle injury that has his status in question for this meeting. The Warriors should proceed cautiously with their star as this is really nothing more than another regular season game and having Curry fresh and fit for the Playoffs is their primary goal.

Cleveland should have the greater motivation to ‘send the proverbial message’ and following a sluggish 5-7 start to the season have won five straight and 18 of 19 through Sunday to pull within a game and a half of Boston for the top record in the East. The Warriors will also be motivated for this contest, with or without Curry. But LeBron James and the Cavs may put forth the greater intensity. And even though the Cavs are just 2-14-1 ATS at home the price here should be the most competitive price they’ve laid at home all season where they’ve been favored by double digits in 10 of their 17 games as hosts. CLEVELAND

Washington at Boston: Boston continues to lead the Eastern Conference with a stellar 25-7 record whereas Washington is 16-14 which is good enough to lead the week Southeast Division. Boston won 16 in a row following an 0-2 start but has gone just 9-5 since November 22. The Wizards were consider a challenger for the Eastern title but have not gained traction thus far. They entered this week on an 0-5 ATS run that includes three outright losses as favorites.

Boston continues to play sound basketball for coach Brad Stevens who has an excellent understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel. BOSTON

Houston at Oklahoma City: Houston has been one of the biggest surprises thus far whereas OKC has been one of the biggest disappointment. The Rockets are an NBA best 24-4 through Sunday, good enough for a game and a half lead over Golden State for the best record in the West. OKC is struggling at 14-15 but that record has them sitting eighth in the West in what has been thus far a rather poor season for the conference as a whole. The Thunder are still trying to find chemistry among Russell Westbrook and the two huge off season acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony.

This is their first meeting of the season and Houston should come as a small favorite considering both teams’ performances to date. OKC is mired in a 3-12 ATS run through Sunday. Houston enters the week having won 13 straight and 19 of 20. This is an excellent spot to jump start the Thunder. OKC

Minnesota at LA Lakers: Minnesota has been a bit of a disappointment thus far at 17-13 given the wealth of young talent and the addition of Jimmy Butler. The Lakers have been more of a pleasant surprise despite their 10-17 record. They’ve shown signs of gelling and while not projected as a Playoff team this season has a chance to exceed their modest Season Wins Total of 32.5. These teams are meeting for the first time this season and Minnesota should be a slight favorite.

The T’wolves are a decent 7-7 SU on the road (7-6-1 ATS). 6 of the Lakers’ 10 wins have come at home including 4 as underdogs and have rarely been blown out. LAKERS

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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