NBA Odds and Predictions: Thursday, December 25 Opening Line Report and Handicapping
by Alan Matthews - 12/24/2014
Get ready for some funky uniforms for the five NBA Christmas Day games as the league tries to sell even more gear. This season the biggest change to the Christmas Day uniforms are that instead of the last names on the back the players will be sporting their first names. Can you understand why that would be so smart from a marketing perspective? There are a lot of boys named John or Chris in the world but not nearly as many with last names of Wall or Paul, just to name two examples. At least no sleeves this year as the jerseys last Christmas looked like pajama tops. Here's a look at every game.
Wizards at Knicks (+5.5, 193)
While New York has been a staple on Christmas Day, it's the first time Washington will play on the holiday since 2008. The Wizards enter on just their second two-game losing streak of the season, and both were at home: Sunday against Phoenix and Tuesday against a Chicago team playing the second of a back-to-back. Star guard Bradley Beal left the game for a bit after getting elbowed to the head in the third quarter, so that's worth keeping an eye on, but he returned to that game and should be fine. The Knicks have no right playing on national TV with how bad they are. They have lost five straight to drop to an absurd 5-25. Amare Stoudemire missed Sunday's loss in Toronto, but it was just for rest and he will play. J.R. Smith likely is out again. The Knicks lost 98-83 at home to Washington on Nov. 4, the Wizards' fourth straight victory in the series. Carmelo Anthony was just 8-for-23 from the field.
Key trends: Washington has failed to cover four straight against teams with a losing home record. The Knicks have covered six straight vs. the East. The "over/under" has gone under in eight of New York's past nine home games.
Early lean: Wizards and over.
Thunder at Spurs (TBA)
Lots of injury questions in this Western Conference Finals rematch. The big one being to the Thunder's Kevin Durant. He has missed three straight games with an ankle injury. The Thunder have dropped the last two, including a well-played 115-111 home overtime loss to Portland on Tuesday despite Russell Westbrook's season-high 40 points. I know Durant would love to play against the champs, but he's still questionable. The Spurs haven't been whole all season it seems, but they might get Kawhi Leonard back for this game -- Leonard believes so. That goes against what Gregg Popovich recently said in that Leonard wouldn't return anytime soon from his hand injury. San Antonio ended a four-game losing streak with Monday's 125-118 win over the Clippers in which Tony Parker surprisingly returned from injury. He had 26 points. The Spurs set season highs in points, field goal percentage and assists. This is the first meeting of the season between the Western powers.
Key trends: The home team has covered six of the past seven meetings. The under is 4-1 in the past five.
Early lean: Have to wait on Durant and Leonard.
Cavaliers at Heat (TBA)
This is the game everyone has circled as LeBron James returns to Miami for the first time, and the Heat are going to honor him with a video tribute beforehand, as they should. I'll be interested to see how the fair-weather south Florida fans welcome James. They should be grateful. Unfortunately, the Cavaliers come in with some bad news as they fear that starting center Anderson Varejao tore his Achilles' tendon in Tuesday's 125-104 win over Minnesota. That's a huge injury because if there's one weakness in this team it's size in the paint. Cleveland will be making a trade now, guaranteed, before the Feb. 20 deadline and probably way before. Miami, meanwhile, embarrassingly lost 91-87 at home to Philadelphia on Tuesday -- I bet the Heat were looking ahead to LeBron. The Sixers rallied from a 23-point second-half deficit. Dwyane Wade had 23 for Miami after missing the team's last game. He's really going to be jacked up to beat LeBron. So will Chris Bosh, but he's very iffy to play. He has missed six straight with a calf injury.
Key trends: The Cavs are 2-5 ATS in their past seven on the road. The Heat are 5-0 ATS in their past five after a loss. The over is 5-0 in Cleveland's past five following a win of at least 10 points.
Early lean: Take whatever points Miami gets if Bosh plays. If not, I don't see how the Heat can keep it close.
Lakers at Bulls (-10, 206.5)
The Lakers are another team that shouldn't be featured on this signature day, but they are the Lakers. I warned you that Kobe Bryant might take Tuesday's game against Golden State off simply for rest and he did. Yet the Lakers somehow pulled off a 115-105 upset of the Warriors. Didn't see that coming. L.A. actually has been much, much better this season in games when Kobe is on the bench. Their average points differential when Kobe sits is plus-8.7. When he's on the court it's -12.7. However, Bryant will be back Thursday in Chicago. This could be a bit of a trap game for the Bulls as it's their third in four nights and they come off big wins over Toronto and in Washington. Derrick Rose totaled 44 points in those two and he looks great. This also will be the first time that Chicago's Pau Gasol will face his former teammates and you know he wants to have a big game because Gasol wasn't happy in L.A. at the end. Kobe does that to people. Lakers forward Carlos Boozer faces his former Bulls guys for the first time. He won't be warmly received.
Key trends: The Bulls are 2-6 ATS in their past eight vs. the West. The over is 4-0 in the Lakers' past four. It is 5-0 in Chicago's past five vs. the West.
Early lean: Like the points here. Do think the Bulls a bit gassed. Go under.
Warriors at Clippers (-2.5, 216)
Maybe Golden State got caught looking ahead to facing the hated Clippers when the Warriors were surprised by the Kobe-less Lakers at Staples Center on Tuesday. At least Golden State didn't have to travel after. That it was only a 10-point loss was somewhat fortunate for the Warriors as they trailed by 24 entering the fourth. Steph Curry was 10-for-14 for 22 points but no other starter played well. The Warriors remain without center Andrew Bogut. The Clippers lost a back-to-back in San Antonio and Atlanta to start this week. No shame in those, although the defense allowed 125 and 107 points, respectively. Usually the home team wins in this series (at least in the regular season). The Clippers finished off the Warriors in Game 7 of last year's playoffs in L.A. Golden State has lost three in a row during the season at the Clippers. The Warriors did thump L.A. 121-104 in Oakland back on Nov. 5.
Key trends: The home team is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The over is 4-1 in the past five.
Early lean: Clippers and over.
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