NBA packs Christmas full of matchups
December 19, 2017 3:05 AM
by Tony Mejia
Since the next issue won’t come until after Christmas Day, your holiday gift is this preview of the NBA’s five-game card, which features some new blood this season. Here’s a quick look at what to be aware of as you look to give yourself a few presents with some well-placed wagers.
76ers at Knicks
New York has been a fixture on Christmas, but Philadelphia will be playing is first game on the holiday since 2001. For many, it will be the first look at Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, two of the top young players in the game, both of whom are likely to be All-Stars. The 76ers are at .500 entering Monday’s trip to Chicago but would still miss the playoffs if the season ended today. They’re looking up at the Knicks, who should have Kristaps Porzingis back from a knee issue for next Monday’s contest, the opening appetizer on a five-game menu.
Veteran guards Courtney Lee and Jarrett Jack have been solid for New York, which has also seen rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina make a strong contribution with his defense. The Knicks have won just two of their last seven Christmas Day games, covering only once. This will be the first meeting of the season between these Atlantic Division rivals.
Cavs at Warriors
Health concerns could spoil the made-for-TV first rematch of the season between the reigning three-time conference champs. It’s looking increasingly unlikely that Stephen Curry will be able to return from a nasty ankle sprain that may sideline him the rest of the calendar year. It’s always a treat to see Draymond Green defend LeBron James, but the Warriors’ emotional leader has been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury that’s already cost him a couple of games and casts doubt on his availability for this one.
Cleveland isn’t expected to have Isaiah Thomas in uniform yet, but did get Tristan Thompson back last week and should have Dwyane Wade back in the mix. Golden State is 1-5 against the spread on Christmas Day and was beaten by the Cavs in the closing seconds last year on a Kyrie Irving jumper. The Dubs won’t have to deal with him this season and will be playing at Oracle, so expect them to be at least a six-to-seven-point favorite even without Curry.
Wizards at Celtics
Kyrie Irving will look to play hero again in a Boston uniform and should have a raucous TD Garden in which to try and hold serve against visiting Washington in a battle of Eastern Conference division leaders. The teams haven’t seen each other since May’s Game 7 of their conference semifinal series that saw both hold serve at home in every contest.
John Wall has missed time due to injuries and Otto Porter has been banged up, but the Wizards are hoping to be healthy as they match up with an Irving-led Celtics team for the first time. The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, will match up in this one, which should make for an interesting subplot.
Rockets at Thunder
Last season’s top two MVP candidates haven’t seen one another yet, but this matchup is about so much more than Russell Westbrook getting together with former teammate James Harden. The Rockets entered this week on a 13-game winning streak and still hadn’t lost since welcoming back point guard Chris Paul, while OKC has yet to really get it together, hovering right around .500 for most of the month and coming off a disappointing loss to the Porzingis-less Knicks in Carmelo Anthony’s return to Madison Square Garden.
The Thunder should have Steven Adams back from concussion protocol, while the Rockets will likely have their own standout young center, Clint Capela, in the lineup after dealing with a sore heel. Capela has been one of the game’s most efficient players on both sides of the ball thus far this season, emerging as the x-factor in Houston’s run to the NBA’s best record. Another interesting subplot is the fact that the Rockets badly wanted Anthony, courting him unabashedly before he ultimately wound up with the Thunder. They also coveted George, who GM Sam Presti was able to land. Although the experiment hasn’t yielded immediate success, Oklahoma City did rout Golden State as a home underdog in the first meeting between the teams and is plenty capable of pulling off another upset win here. Houston is a perfect 3-0 straight up and against the number on Christmas over the past decade.
T’wolves at Lakers
Minnesota has climbed into the favorite’s role in the Northwest Division due to OKC’s struggles and should be favored as they square off against the Lakers. The Timberwolves made their first Staples Center visit of the season a winning one against the Clippers on Dec. 6 and will be closing out a three-game road trip with this matchup. The Lakers have been a fixture on the Christmas Day schedule despite their struggles late in the Kobe Bryant era and have some new blood to get excited about with young kids Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma emerging.
One thing to keep in mind with L.A. is that the under is 9-2-1 in their last dozen games on this holiday and 32-18 overall since ’05. Head coach Tom Thibodeau hasn’t gotten the results he’s been seeking with his Wolves hovering near the league’s bottom-five in defensive rating, but this could be a good opportunity for him to start turning that around.
Enjoy the day!