Christmas Day NBA Odds, Picks, Predictions: Target Knicks, Suns, Lakers, More Saturday
Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns.
- Five great NBA games over a 12 hour span, what more could you ask for on Christmas?
- Action Network Senior NBA Writer Matt Moore has a bet for every game and he's breaking down his picks for the entire slate below.
The presents under the tree this NBA Christmas may not be what was on your list. COVID and the Omicron variant have torn through the league, leaving many stars unavailable due to health and safety protocols.
Bookmakers wouldn’t even post the lines until after Thursday night’s games ended, with several books waiting until Friday to see if more players popped on the health and safety protocols list.
Nonetheless, the show must go on. Here’s your guide to the NBA’s biggest regular season day.
Hawks vs. Knicks (-6.5)
The rematch of the first round series that put Trae Young on the map looks mighty different this time around, starting with the fact that Young probably isn’t playing.
He entered protocols and along with Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and Clint Capela (not to mention the injured Deandre Hunter). The Hawks are basically a shell of the team they intended on being this season. This doesn’t make them toothless, the John Collins-led Hawks beat the Sixers Thursday night.
The Knicks have underperformed as well this season, and now are without Derrick Rose after the veteran underwent ankle surgery. But they got a boost Thursday with word that RJ Barrett had cleared protocols. Without Rose along with Immanuel Quickly, who is in protocols, the Knicks are once again reliant on Kemba Walker, who had a big game Thursday in a loss to the Wizards.
Complicating this matchup is the inconsistency of the Hawks themselves. Atlanta just hasn’t been consistent this season even when fully healthy. Trae Young is an All-Star, All-NBA type guard whose production is always sky high.
When he’s been on the floor this season, the Hawks have outscored their opponent (+3.5 net rating) and when he’s been on the bench, they’ve lost to their opponents (-3.5 net rating). So his absence is probably worth on the high end of superstar value to the spread, probably 2-3 points.
I have this modeled with the Knicks as favored based on the full season numbers in a halfcourt and transition matchup context, with the Knicks -0.7 before homecourt. Young and Capela likely move this line a full 3.5 points which gets us to the 4.5.
Assuming that Young doesn’t play — and given how much energy has gone into trying to get stars out of protocol for Christmas I would advise waiting to make sure — then I think there’s value on the Knicks. The Knicks’ defense has been a little better as of late.
The Hawks have a big edge in pick and roll in this matchup; Atlanta is the third best team against opponents who play at the level of the screen defensively which is what New York runs.
But Young is vital for that success with his passing. The Knicks are mediocre vs. drop defense which is what Atlanta plays, but Capela’s absence as a rim protector looms large there. Walker should be able to find comfortable looks vs. that scheme.
The edge in this matchup for New York is in transition; the Knicks are a top-five team in transition offense per possession, while the Hawks are the second worst team defending transition per possession via Synergy Sports and with inexperienced players playing an aggressive defensive scheme, turnovers seem likely.
If Young plays, this line moves much close to a pick ‘em and I think there’s value on the Hawks. If Capela plays and Young doesn’t, I still like the value on the Knicks; the line will move slightly in Atlanta’s direction but not much. The bench players don’t my side position at all.
I’ll have Knicks in a ML round robin and I like the Knicks at anything shorter than -5.5.
Update: This line has moved to Knicks -7. I can’t get on board with laying that many points, and I still don’t want to take any with Atlanta. I think this is a stay-away at this number, though the ML in any parlays is still safe.
The Pick: Knicks ML (Parlay piece)
Celtics vs. Bucks (-4.5)
As of right now, Giannis Antetokounmpo is out protocols and is a game-time decision for Christmas Day (Bobby Portis, Donte DiVincenzo and Brook Lopez remain out). On the Celtics’ side, Al Horford, Grant Williams and Jabari Parker are all in protocols.
The Bucks have managed to hang in without Giannis which is a credit to their veteran stars Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday. DeMarcus Cousins is having to start and he poured in 22 vs. the short-handed Mavericks Thursday.
For Boston, Horford and Williams being out means an absence of stretch four options who can pass out of the pick and roll. However, this is all and all a good matchup for Boston’s offense, who ranks seventh vs. drop coverage which is Milwaukee’s base coverage especially with Boogie, and ninth vs. switch is the Bucks’ alternate coverage.
I have this at Bucks -2.5, giving me a full point of edge on Boston, before we factor in Giannis’ absence.
Like with Young, you should absolutely make sure that Giannis doesn’t get cleared before tipoff. But if Antetokounmpo is out, regardless of the status of any other player outside of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have value here.
Robert Williams is coming into his stride and the numbers with him on-court have been great. To simplify matters, even though Boston’s missing bench guys, they still have a number of good young and veteran bench options. Milwaukee’s bench only scored 16 vs. the Mavericks Thursday. The starters’ edge goes to Boston without Antetokounmpo, and the bench edge goes to Boston with DiVincenzo and Portis out.
Make sure Giannis is out, but Celtics at any thing better than +2 has value, and I’ll be on the Celtics in the moneyline round robin.
Update: Giannis is in! Fun twist!
Bucks moved back to -6.5 after the news that both Giannis and Portis would be available for this game. This flips the game entirely. With Giannis in and most of the Celtics’ bench still out, the value on the Celtics is gone.
Al Horford may get out of protocols for this game and it would matter. But if Giannis is playing I need Celtics +8 or better for there to be value. Celtics ML is off the table with Giannis playing, but I don’t think there’s value on Milwaukee either.
The Pick: Celtics +8 or better or stay away
Warriors vs. Suns (-4.5)
At full health, I’m on the Warriors here. I like their ability to matchup and counter what the Suns bring to the table. My model makes this Suns -1.7 with homecourt. It’s a tight matchup between the league’s two best teams.
But the Warriors aren’t at full strength. Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins, two starters, are in health and safety protocols and will likely miss this game. Both have key roles in this matchup.
Poole provides a secondary ball handler to Stephen Curry to allow the Warriors to attack with Mikal Bridges blanketing Curry. Wiggins operates as a fill-in scorer and a long defender. Both combined are wroth probably a point to this spread in this matchup, and Andre Iguodala is far from a lock to play having missed several games with injury.
So the play is on the Suns.
I may wind up just betting whoever’s at home in the two remaining regular season games between these teams and in a potential series. I think there’s value long-term on the Warriors to best the Suns; I think Golden State has better top-end talent and more answers defensively with a switching defense that’s given the Suns some issues in the past. On top of that, Curry is unlikely to go 4-of-21 as he did in the first meeting that the Suns won.
But shorthanded, on the road, vs. an extremely tough and competent Suns team, I’m going to lay the points at less than two possessions. Bear in mind that while COVID is obviously unpredictable, this is a rare line that shows some value now vs. later.
The Warriors already have Poole and Wiggins in protocols and the pattern in the NBA this season has been two players enter, then a few days more. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if more Warriors entered protocols between now and tipoff.
I like the Suns at -4.5 provided the Warriors are still without Poole and Wiggins, and I’ll have the Suns in the parlay.
Update: This has moved to Suns -6, and while 72% of the tickets are on the Warriors, 71% of the money is on the Suns. This matchup is too tight even with the missing Warriors to lay more than the 4.5. At Warriors +6.5 I’ll go light on the Dubs, at 7 or better I’m on Golden State.
I still like the Suns ML, which is still below -200, for any parlays.
The Picks: Suns -4.5 or better, Warriors +6.5 or better | Suns ML (Parlay piece)
Nets (-1.5) vs. Lakers
This should be the showstopper, the grand marquee game, the headliner.
Instead, it’s LeBron James and the raggedy leftovers vs. the almost-Nets.
Kevin Durant, as of this moment, is out with protocols. If that changes, I’m betting the Nets. If Durant plays, the Nets are an autoplay.
But if it’s the Nets’ leftovers with James Harden, I have to play the Lakers, no matter how bad they’ve looked since Anthony Davis went out.
The Nets are missing: Durant, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre’ Bembry, Day’Ron Sharpe and Cam Thomas. Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton are both Day-to-Day with injuries. The Lakers are without Anthony Davis, Austin Reaves, Avery Bradley, Trevor Ariza, Malik Monk, and Kendrick Nunn.
This is rough.
Ultimately, if these are the two rosters that play, it’s James, Russell Westbrook (who played well in L.A.’s loss to the Spurs Thursday) and some guys vs. James Harden and some guys. In that spot, I’ve got to take LeBron.
If Durant plays, no matter what the number moves to (within reason), I’m on the Nets. But based mostly on the Lakers’ big edge in transition, I do have them favored in this game.
I’ll have the Lakers in the parlay, but this is a wild, unpredictable game with two teams ravaged by injury and COVID. It’s a shame the biggest game on the slate is a stay-away, but it really should be.
The Pick: Lakers ML (Parlay piece)
Mavericks vs. Jazz (-12.5)
The Jazz this season are 6-10 as a favorite of 9.5 or more, and amazingly, just 8-6 straight up as a double-digit favorite. The Mavericks are without Luka Doncic, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock, and Tim Hardaway Jr. due to COVID and Kristaps Porzingis missed Thursday’s loss to Milwaukee with a toe injury.
If Doncic is suddenly, miraculously cleared, I’m on the Mavericks. The number would move probably to Jazz -6.5 to -7.5, and I’d still like Dallas. The Mavs would be able to attack the Jazz’s drop defense and without Porzingis, the Mavs can switch more effectively with an improved defense and switching gives the Jazz problems.
But without Doncic, the Mavericks just don’t have the firepower to keep up with this Jazz offense. I have this at Jazz -6.5 on full-season numbers. Move that line three points for Doncic, then another 1.5 for the other missing role players and you’ve got an edge on Utah.
I’ll definitely have the Jazz ML in the round robin parlay, but I also think you can feel good laying the number with Utah even if any other combination of Mavericks role players including Porzingis return as long as Doncic is out. That’s how valuable he is.
The Pick: Jazz ML (Parlay piece)