Odds are, most of America will be joyful and grateful by the time they turn off their television sets and shut down their smartphones after the final game of the NBA’s quintupleheader is played.
Sure, we have to endure the Pelicans and the Warriors, the two worst teams in the Western Conference, but hey, Christmas is an endurance test in a lot of ways for a lot of families. Just remember, the trick is to keep the discussion among extended family members shifted away from politics.
The folks in the sports gambling community are gearing up for a record-breaking day with the American economy booming. So let’s have a look at all five games in this special Christmas preview edition of this column.
Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors — Noon EST
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After watching what Jayson Tatum did Sunday night, which followed an epic comeback by the Toronto Raptors against the Dallas Mavericks (the NBA’s first 30-point comeback since Sacramento beat Chicago on Dec. 21, 2009), we get to see the two of the top four Eastern Conference teams.
The Celtics had the league’s third-best record going into Monday night’s games, and Tatum went off for a career-high 39 points against the Hawks on Sunday. As a bonus present for fans of the Celtics, Gordon Hayward will be making his return from a broken hand.
Boston opened as a 1.5-point favorite at FanDuel Sportsbook and is a league-leading 17-8-2 against the spread.
Milwaukee Bucks at Philadelphia 76ers — 2:30 p.m. EST
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Get this: The team with the NBA’s best record opened as a one-point underdog. Yup, the Bucks are getting a point in the city where Santa Claus was once booed on Christmas Day as the Sixers host a Dec. 25 game for the first time in 31 years. And here is a nugget you won’t find anywhere else but is almost a mortal lock to happen: Josh Harris’ team will give relatively bad seats to the family of Bucks owner Mark Lasry. The back story of how this information came to light will remain a mystery, but the intel is solid.
Milwaukee is 18-13 against the spread, while Philly is 14-16-1. There is not yet a prop bet on the number of airballs Giannis Antetokounmpo will have while attempting free throws (he has dropped below 60 percent from the line). Joel Embiid said the Sixers “played scared” in a loss to the Mavericks on Friday night, and Philly has lost two in a row at home after opening 14-0. No prop bets are up yet on whether bratwurst cheesesteaks will be barbequed in the parking lot of Wells Fargo Center by Bucks fans who make the journey from Wisconsin.
Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors — 5:10 p.m. EST
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Is this the game in which Bernard King’s 60-point Christmas Day record is broken by none other than James Harden, who is averaging 38.8 points and has gone for 50 three times already this month? The Bearded one always looks to put on a show whether the game is nationally televised or not, but something tells me he will turn it up a notch knowing the size of the audience that will be tuning in.
The Rockets (14-15-0 against the spread) opened as 9.5-point favorites at FanDuel. Golden State is 13-16-1 against the spread, and the Rockets (the NBA’s second-highest scoring team behind Milwaukee) are 13-16-0 on over/unders.
LA Clippers at LA Lakers — 8:10 p.m. EST
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LeBron James (listed as questionable Monday because of a thoracic muscle injury) ranks third on the career Christmas Day scoring list with 338 points, behind No. 1 Kobe Bryant (395) and No. 2 Oscar Robertson (377). So if he goes for 58 while being defended by Paul George, that’ll sort of be a big deal. There will be no load management in this game, and there will be no shortage of Hollywood icons filling the courtside seats at Staples Center.
James will play his 14th Christmas Day game, moving into sole possession of second place in NBA history. Kobe Bryant holds the record with 16. The Lakers have the most wins on Christmas Day with 23, and Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been a part of 15 Christmas Day games – four as a player and 11 as a head coach. The Lakers, 24-6 but on a three-game slide after getting crushed by Denver on Sunday, opened as two-point favorites despite the three-game losing streak.
“The championship is won in June — it’s not won on Christmas,” Dwight Howard said after the Nuggets, owners of the No. 2 record in the West, trounced the Lakers with a 73-51 second half Sunday. “This is not an ego test for us. We’re not trying to see who’s better right now. We want to make sure come playoff time that we’re the best team going into the playoffs and at the end of the playoffs that we’re the best team in the world. That’s the goal. That should be our mindset.”
But you know what? Showcase games matter … especially with these two teams battling for supremacy in the nation’s No. 2 market. The Clippers have a slightly better record against the spread (17-14-1 vs. 13-17-0), and this will be one of the few times that Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will have played together. Hey, nobody owns load management like Kawhi. Ideally, it is to get him loaded up for games such as this one, which should be a treat.
New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets — 10:40 p.m. EST
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The line on this one opened at Denver -9.5, which seems low after watching them dismantle the Lakers on Sunday night. Assuming they win Monday at Phoenix, the Nuggets will be coming in with an NBA-high seven-game winning streak to go along with what is by far the NBA’s strongest defense. They hold opponents to 101.8 points per game (Boston is second at 103.2.), which is why they are the “worst” over/under team at 10-18-0. (We use the word “worst” loosely because sharp Nuggets fans who gamble know which way they are trending and take advantage).
Alvin Gentry is a heavy favorite over Mike Malone to give a colorful quote between periods, but Gentry has been winning those battles for years. A word to the wise: Pay close attention to this game alongside the relatives, otherwise the political talk might happen. Above all else, every America’s Christmas wish list should be a Christmas devoid of politics. Have a merry one.