The best part of each NBA season comes on Dec. 25 when the Association puts on its annual Christmas schedule. Is there anything better than drinking some eggnog, opening presents and watching some of the best teams in the league go at it? In honor of the Christmas schedule our Five Games To Watch this week will be each of the games on Tuesday, ranked in order of ‘watchability’. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!
1) L.A. Lakers at Golden State (-9), 8 p.m. ET
Is there any question that this is the best game on the board this Christmas? LeBron James gets his first crack at the Golden State Warriors in a Laker uniform, and both teams are playing solid basketball. Sure, Los Angeles has dropped two of three and is just 1-3 against the spread over its last four games, but that might be more fatigue than anything. The Lakers will wrap up a four-game east coast swing in Brooklyn on Wednesday, and that game will be the team’s seventh game in 10 days, sixth on the road. Golden State quietly took the honor of best offensive efficiency rating from Milwaukee back on Dec. 8, and will clearly be a test for Los Angeles, which is 12th in defensive efficiency. The Warriors will be in the range of an 8-point favorite come Tuesday evening. The movement of the line will be a fascinating story to track as tip-off approaches. Golden State and Los Angeles are two publicly backed teams on a nightly basis, and the Lakers should be catching about 8 points on Christmas. Will bettors want to back the King and his new team, or will the Warriors, who are a losing team against the spread yet again, get the support at the windows?
2) Philadelphia at Boston (-4), 5:30 p.m. ET
The final game of a four-game homestand for Boston has the Philadelphia 76ers heading to TD Garden. The 76ers should dread a trip to Boston more than coal in their stockings, as the team is an abysmal 1-11 straight up and 4-8 ATS in their last 12 trips to Boston. To make matters even worse, Philadelphia is just 5-10 ATS on the road this season. Meanwhile, the Celtics hit a small speed bump over the weekend when their eight-game win & cover streak ended in Detroit against the Pistons. The jury is still out on if Boston’s resurgence is here to stay, or the byproduct of an easy schedule. After all, each of the seven teams the Celtics faced during their winning streak have losing records. Detroit was, by far, the best defensive team Boston faced, and it snapped the streak, allowing just 104 points from the Celtics, the lowest point total for the team since Nov. 24. The first time these two teams met, Boston was a 5-point favorite. Bettors should expect about the same number in the second game of their regular season series.
3) Oklahoma City at Houston (-1.5), 3 p.m. ET
Is it possible that the Houston Rockets are finally turning into the team most expected coming into this season? Houston is in the midst of a four-game winning streak, and just so happens to be 4-0 ATS in those contests as well. James Harden has had a huge hand in leading the Rockets through this four-game streak. The reigning MVP averaged 39 points, shooting 51 percent from the floor and 37 percent from distance in those four games. The Thunder just finished a challenging portion of its schedule, forced to play five games in seven nights with a trip to Denver mixed in on the front-end of a back-to-back. On Tuesday, whoever gets to dictate tempo will likely come out on top. Oklahoma City is currently 8th in the NBA in possessions per game (106.1) while Houston has resumed its plodding pace from a season ago and is 28th in that category (100.6). The Thunder need to make this a running match, taking as many cracks at the hoop as possible to take this win on Christmas. Houston is shooting 37 percent from three as a team over its four-game winning streak, and if it gets hot from deep one of the worst shooting teams in the Association will have a hard time getting a road win.
4) Portland at Utah (-6), 10:30 p.m. ET
Despite recent success for the Trail Blazers, there are still signs that this club is far from fixing the issues that have plagued them during this 5-8 SU and 4-9 ATS slump. The team got a strong win over Toronto at the Moda Center, but it was Kawhi Leonard’s first game back from a hip injury and Kyle Lowry was not on the floor. The win against the Clippers might have been impressive two weeks ago, but Los Angeles owns the fourth-worst defensive rating since Dec. 1, hardly an impressive win. They must now hit the road, where they are 5-10 against the number, to meet an equally disappointing Utah Jazz team. The Jazz have played a road-heavy schedule early on, but have been mundane on the floor no matter where they play. The one positive for Utah is that the team’s defense seems to be improving, and it has found its way into the top 10 of defensive efficiency. Over the last three games Utah has kept opponents limited to just 91.8 points per 100 possessions, the best in the league over that stretch. If the team can keep that defensive intensity going at home against a Portland team that struggles on the road, it should be a Merry Christmas for Jazz backers.
5) Milwaukee (-10) at New York, Noon ET
No shock that this game is the last on our rankings of the Christmas Day games. Milwaukee figures to be in the range of a 9-point favorite, and to make matters worse for the Knicks will be the factor of revenge. On Dec. 1, the Bucks traveled to what is allegedly still the Mecca of Basketball and were handed a shocking 136-134 loss. Don’t think that won’t be on their mind when they hit the floor on Tuesday. The Knickerbockers have begun to hit the skids as of late, posting a 1-7 straight up record over their last eight games with just two covers over that span. Milwaukee sits right behind Golden State & Toronto in offensive efficiency, scoring 110.3 points per 100 possessions. New York allows 110.1 points every 100 possessions. On the surface, it looks like grandma won’t be the only one getting run over by reindeer this Christmas.