If you polled all 30 NBA general managers today, they may be unanimous in their selection for Executive of the Year in 2019-20: David Griffin of the New Orleans Pelicans.
Not only did he turn Anthony Davis into a boatload of assets, he drafted Zion Williamson No. 1 overall (OK, that was luck), he brought in two veteran glue guy winners in J.J. Redick (from Philadelphia) and Derrick Favors (from Utah), and he added a second top-notch first-round draft pick in Nikeal Alexander-Walker, whose cousin plays for the Clippers.
So it was quite surprising to see the gambling lines for the five-day Christmas Day slate of games, first reported by ESPN. The Pelicans are nine-point underdogs on the road against the Denver Nuggets — the highest line of any of the five games on the board.
Favors is going to have the unenviable task of trying to defend Nikola Jokic — a job that fell to Rudy Gobert at season when the Nuggets defeated the Jazz 3-1 in the season series. Jahlil Okafor will be the backup to Favors at center for the Pelicans, who will be playing at altitude on the road in the Mile High City.
Still, nine points?
An NBA source said the Pelicans will be playing on the final night of a four-game, eight-night road trip … so many the line should be 19?
Anyway, one of the things about looking at NBA odds in the new legalized U.S. sports gambling market is that there are major wagering opportunities that the sharp bettors jump all over. A bunch of folks in Serbia are doing that as we speak in looking forward to the FIBA World Cup, which we have written about extensively here at TheLines.com — first about the U.S. team, and then about what Sasha Djordjevic is doing in the mountains three hours north of Belgrade with Jokic and a bunch of other studs, one of whom, Marko Guduric, just signed with the Memphis Grizzlies.
“Generally, the home court is with four or four and a half points,” said Jeff Sherman of the Westgate Superbook on Friday. “With these two teams, we see it as a four-point difference, and we just put it on the board at 8.5. Be we haven’t taken a single bet on any of the Christmas games yet.”
Naturally, the NBA went heavy on star power in picking its annual Christmas quadruple-header. The lineup is Celtics-Raptors, Nuggets, Pelicans, Rockets-Warriors, Bucks-76ers and (of course), Clippers-Lakers.
Let’s take a look at the other four games, along with the point spreads that have already been posted by FanDuel Sportsbook.
Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors (-3) — 12:10 p.m. EST
We get to see Stanley Johnson instead of Kawhi Leonard for the team from “The North,” and Kemba Walker instead of Kyrie Irving for the team wearing the green. West Coast fans will still be unwrapping presents when this one tips off, and it pits two teams who were strong playoff contenders just a couple of months ago but now are surrounded by question marks considering all of their personnel changes. The Raptors, in fact, are 100-1 to win the title at the Superbook in Las Vegas.
The Celtics still have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown and have added Enes Kanter, yet they are three-point road dogs as the game is being played north of the US border. On the East Coast, this will be the time when families start to get sick of each other — especially if political discussions are involved. All it will take is one person mentioning the Canadian health care system, and … oh, never mind.
Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers (-3) — 2:40 p.m. EST
Joel Embiid and Al Horford are going to have to go out to the 3-point line to defend Brook Lopez, who knocked down 187 of them last season as coach Mike Budenholzer used him to space the floor and open up the middle for MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Tobias Harris is also going to be kept away from the basket to defend Khris Middleton, and Ben Simmons will get to show the world whether he has finally learned to bend his knees when shooting a free throw.
Milwaukee is a 3-point road underdog, which seems curious. Once upon a time, fans in Philadelphia booed Santa Claus on Christmas … so expect the unexpected. For what it’s worth, all three Bucks-Sixers game were high-scoring affairs last season. On the East Coast, the egg nog should be flowing, and discussion of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin being political swing states should be a little less heated.
New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets (-9) — 5:10 p.m. EST
Here is the thing about the West: There are probably six legitimate championship contenders, of which the Nuggets are one. The Pelicans are undoubtedly contenders for one of the top eight spots in the conference, but their championship odds are 60-1 (+6000) at DraftKings and +6500 at FanDuel (Denver is +2300 at DK and +1900 at FD).
On the East Coast, it will be time to carve the turkey or eat the lasagna (an Italian thing in New York), while on the West Coast it’ll be time to open that bottle of Merlot that has been sitting in a cellar for so many years. The merits of legalized marijuana (Colorado) and 24-hour bar hours (Louisiana) will lighten the family discussions.
Los Angeles Clippers (-1) at Los Angeles Lakers — 8:10 p.m. EDT
No telling if this will be the first matchup of the season between the two Los Angeles teams that made major changes in the offseason, but this one could set ratings records given all of the star power together on the court at one time (LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the Lakers; Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the Clippers).
Steve Ballmer and Jeannie Buss will undoubtedly get equal amounts of face time on the telecast. Somebody will try to post odds on whether Patrick Beverley will be ejected, and one thing for certain is that he will be a gnat who will play a bigger role in this game than most might imagine.
The Clippers are favored by one point, which basically means this is a pick ’em game. At DraftKings, you can also bet on whether James or Leonard will average more points for the season.
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (-1.5) — 10:10 p.m. EDT
For many, this will be their first chance to watch Russell Westbrook play in a new uniform, and in interesting prop bet will be whether he or James Harden attempts more shots.
It’ll be strange seeing the Warriors without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and if you ever want a litmus test of how exposed the Warriors are going to be on the defensive end now that they have D’Angelo Russell, this will be the proof.
An interesting sideshow will be Willie Cauley-Stein (an underrated pickup by Golden State) going up against Clint Capela, and by this point in the season we should have a decent feel for whether the Warriors are going to be championship contenders (they still have Steph Curry, let’s not forget) and whether Harden and Westbrook will comprise the best backcourt in the NBA (Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum will probably dispute those who say “yes.”
On the East Coast, families will have broken down in tears if there have been political matters discussed, while in California and Texas there will be halftime discussion of the relative merits of Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke. The line is Golden State favored by a point and a half, and there is not yet an over/under (although eventually it’ll come in somewhere around 250.) This one will be worth having that extra cup of coffee rather than that eighth Heineken.