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NBA gets lump of coal for Christmas

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

It’s not quite the day-night stocking stuffer the NBA, sports bettors and ESPN’s family of networks were hoping for. 

No Steph Curry for Golden State’s injury-depleted roster. No Zion Williamson for New Orleans. LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers will be out or slowed by an injury that caused him to sit out Sunday. 

But handicappers will still get a chance to evaluate the Eastern Conference championship picture in the first two games of a Christmas quintuple-header. And maybe Santa will bring LeBron a cure for a thoracic muscle sprain before a prime-time meeting of Western Conference favorites.

Let’s run through the schedule from a market perspective. Odds to win the league title from William Hill are in parentheses. 

— Boston (14/1) at Toronto (50/1) (noon, ESPN)

The Celtics have been a pleasant surprise, performing much more enthusiastically as a unit since Kyrie Irving’s departure. They sport a 17-8-2 ATS record, cashing 68% of their decisions. Toronto is still market-rated fourth best in the East despite losing Kawhi Leonard from last year’s league champion. Current odds just to win the Eastern Conference are Boston 7/2 and Toronto 12/1. 

— Milwaukee (7/2) at Philadelphia (9/1) (2:30 p.m., ABC)

The Sixers still rank second in the East on futures boards, but they wouldn’t even have home-court advantage in the first round if the playoffs started today. Elite talent but not much regular-season fire has cost their backers a few units after vigorish. Milwaukee has the best record in the NBA at 27-4 and is 18-13 ATS. Milwaukee is 11/10 to win the East and Philly 11/5. 

— Houston (12/1) at Golden State (750/1) (5 p.m., ABC)

Maybe only gamblers will watch this one. Warriors fans can’t bear to see their team in its current state. Houston can probably name the score but has a tendency to take its foot off the gas in such spots, going 1-6 ATS in its last seven laying -7 or more. 

— L.A. Clippers (13/5) vs. L.A. Lakers (2/1) (8 p.m., ABC)

Everyone circled this TV blockbuster before the season started. It’s always a dice roll in the NBA whether scheduled attractions will pan out because of injuries or load management. The Lakers are off to the hotter start straight up (24-6 to 22-10), but the Clippers have been better against the spread (18-14 to 16-14). 

William Hill’s numbers have it at 83% that the Lakers (33%), Clippers (28%) or Bucks (22%) will throw a parade next summer. True odds are less than that because sportsbooks build universes larger than 100% to create a house edge.  

— New Orleans (1000/1) at Denver (20/1) (10:30 p.m., ESPN)

A disastrous start for the Pelicans — losing outright about three-fourths of the time and missing the market about two-thirds of the time. It probably won’t improve playing at altitude on the road vs. a budding Western threat. 


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