I'm of the opinion that Christmas is the best day of the NBA regular season, hands down. And I also think it's when the Association should start the season as it did during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign. That way, you are clear of the college football regular season completely and near the end of the NFL's. And you could extend the NBA playoffs into late July, early August when the NFL training camps open. That way there's no dead month or two in summer where it's just baseball, golf, tennis and soccer (although this year we have the Olympics). That's probably never going to happen, although we might be looking at labor strife again following the 2016-17 season and maybe another lockout that pushes the season back.
The NBA again has Christmas to itself this year with no NFL, NCAA football or NHL games (there are a few blah college basketball games in Hawaii). And once again, we will be treated to some special uniforms. Some of these have been total flops. This year's Adidas creations are pretty interesting if you haven't seen them. No more sleeves or player nicknames. The normal tops have a classic feel with scripted team names. The uniforms include a decal on the back that's a nod to holiday greeting cards. The socks are awesome with each team's colors incorporating a snowflake design. The whole look is really good.
Every game is on national TV -- ABC or ESPN -- and should have live betting at sportsbooks.
Pelicans at Heat (-6, 200)
New Orleans is finally healthy for the most part and starting to play a bit better. It beat Portland 115-89 on Wednesday for its second straight win. Anthony Davis had 28 points and 12 rebounds and the Pelicans have won consecutive games for only the second time and are 8-8 since starting 1-11. Miami lost 93-92 at home to Detroit on Tuesday, blowing an 18-point lead. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh missed jumpers in the final three seconds for Miami. Goran Dragic sat out with a wrist injury. He's questionable for this one. New Orleans had lost five straight in the series before sweeping last year. The Pelicans did so despite Davis playing just one game and only nine minutes in that. Eric Gordon averaged a team-high 22.0 points and 7.0 assists. Wade averaged 15.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the two.
Key trends: New Orleans is 6-2 against the spread in its past eight vs. teams with a winning record. The Heat are 8-3 ATS in their past 11 following a loss. The "over/under" is 6-1 in the past seven meetings.
Early lean: Heat and over.
Bulls at Thunder (-8, 206)
Chicago is in a bit of disarray right now and on a three-game losing streak, inexplicably losing at home to Brooklyn on Monday, 105-102. Jimmy Butler said before the game that he didn't regret his critical comments of first-year coach Fred Hoiberg two days earlier. Hoiberg altered his starting lineup again by putting Nikola Mirotic in at small forward and benching Tony Snell, who didn't play at all. However, Hoiberg might have to do something else now that Joakim Noah is out 2-4 weeks with a shoulder injury suffered Monday. That will open more minutes for rookie forward Bobby Portis. Oklahoma City won a third in a row Wednesday, 120-85 at the Lakers. Russell Westbrook had 23 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. The Thunder are 14-2 against Western Conference teams. The Bulls tend to play up to their competition and they beat the visiting Thunder 104-98 on Nov. 5. Derrick Rose had maybe his best game of the year with 29 points, including 10 in the final three-plus minutes. Durant had 33 for OKC and Westbrook 20 and 10 helpers.
Key trends: The home team is 7-3 ATS in the past 10 meetings. The under is 7-0 in OKC's past seven at home.
Early lean: Thunder and under.
Cavaliers at Warriors (-7, 210.5)
This is in the coveted 5 p.m. ET slot and should draw boffo ratings -- it is a shame that the Warriors weren't unbeaten as that might have set an NBA record for a regular-season game, at least this century. Of course the Warriors beat the Cavaliers in six games in last year's NBA Finals, but Cleveland only had All-Star guard Kyrie Irving for Game 1 and forward Kevin Love not at all. The Warriors are 7-4 in their history at home in Christmas games. Cleveland is the first Eastern Conference opponent the Warriors are facing on the holiday since New York in 1971. The Cavs won a fifth straight Wednesday, 91-84 over the Knicks. Cleveland was very sloppy -- clearly looking ahead to this game as I mentioned it probably would. In his second game of the season, Irving was just 1-for-7 in 19 minutes. I thought Golden State might be caught looking ahead Wednesday too, but the Warriors blew out Utah 103-85 for their 31st straight home win. Center Andrew Bogut was questionable but did play and had 10 points and 13 rebounds. The Warriors remain +125 Bovada favorites to win the NBA title with Cleveland second at +300.
Key trends: The Cavs are 3-13 ATS in their past 16 following an ATS loss. The over is 10-2 in Golden State's past 12 overall.
Early lean: Cavaliers and over.
Spurs at Rockets (+8, 204)
San Antonio won its seventh consecutive game Wednesday, 108-83 in Minnesota. The Spurs have scored in triple digits in all of those wins. Just can't wait until they play the Warriors. Kawhi Leonard is a defensive monster and to see him on perhaps Steph Curry? Yes please. Alas, we have to wait until Jan. 25. Houston lost 104-101 in Orlando on Wednesday. Marcus Thornton's 3-pointer missed at the final horn, ending Houston's three-game winning streak. James Harden had 31 as Houston rallied from a 14-point deficit to briefly lead late. Ty Lawson returned from a two-game suspension, playing about 27 minutes and scoring 11 points. San Antonio was 3-1 vs. Houston last regular season, winning the final three. Both teams scored a total of 405 points. Harden averaged 21.5 points vs. San Antonio. Dwight Howard averaged 21.0 ppg (71.7 percent shooting) and 14.5 rpg.
Key trends: The home team is 6-0 ATS in the past six meetings. The under is 4-1 in the past five in Houston.
Early lean: Rockets and under.
Clippers at Lakers (+11, 207.5)
It's the final Christmas Day game for Kobe Bryant, so expect to be inundated with that. He holds the record for most Christmas points with 383. The Lakers are 6-11 on Christmas in the Bryant era, though he hasn't played every time. He got last year off, for example. No way he sits here. Kobe had 19 points in Wednesday's 35-point home loss to Oklahoma City. The Lakers' Julius Randle did not play because of an ankle injury and Nick Young was sidelined because of gastroenteritis. The Clips lost 100-99 at home to the Thunder on Monday as Chris Paul's potential winner was partially blocked by Kevin Durant. Only five of the Clippers' 16 wins have come against teams currently over .500. This is the first of five straight on the road for the Clippers, although this is obviously a road game in name only (and color scheme at Staples Center). The Clippers have won seven straight over their co-tenants. And the average margin of victory in those seven is nearly 25 points per game. The Clips didn't score fewer than 105 points in the four games last year.
Key trends: The Clippers are 9-3 ATS in the past 12 meetings. The over is 9-1 in the past 10 when the Lakers are the home team.
Early lean: Clippers and over.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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