Christmas Day has morphed into the first day a lot of basketball fans start taking the season seriously. Even though the season is well underway, football gets a lot of coverage during October and November.
This year, the NBA has another outstanding slate of games scheduled. The elephant in the room is that no one knows for sure how it’ll play out with so many players in and out of COVID-19 protocols. The omicron variant has turned into a major hurdle for not only the NBA, but all sports.
These are the current picks against the spread, with just two days before games start. Keep in mind that any major announcements could sway these picks (and the spreads) considerably. Teams have a pretty good idea of who will be playing on Christmas Day, but it’s not 100% set in stone.
Atlanta Hawks at New York Knicks
New York Knicks -6.5
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When the schedule first released, many thought that this would be a very intriguing matchup to start Christmas Day. However, both teams have underperformed so far this year, and they’re in danger of not even making the playoffs in an improved Eastern Conference. After having an exciting playoff series last year, can the magic be recaptured at Madison Square Garden?
The big question going into this game is whether or not Atlanta will get their best players back. Trae Young headlines the list of names in COVID-19 protocols, but as of right now, he is scheduled to make his return for Christmas.
Atlanta’s struggled against any teams that are remotely good this year, and playing on the road in a marquee matchup might be too much for them to handle. Expect a somewhat sluggish game that might be the lowest scoring of the day, as the Knicks pull off the win at home and cover. They have the more impressive résumé so far this year, and should get that home court boost with a crazy crowd even at noon. It won’t be a pretty win, but the Knicks get some mild revenge.
Pick: New York Knicks -6.5
Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks -3.5
The defending NBA champions have looked fairly solid this year, although they’ve dealt with some injury and health issues. They will once again be facing a pretty tall task on Saturday, as they’ll be without their star Giannis Antetokounmpo due to health and safety protocols. This is a big blow to a team that also will miss rotation players such as Dante DeVincenzo, Bobby Portis, and Brook Lopez.
The Celtics are doing a little bit better, but they’ll be without Al Horford, Grant Williams, and Enis Freedom. This is why the line has moved around so much, as the Celtics will still have their main weapons to give Milwaukee a game.
The Bucks are under .500 for the year so far without Antetokounmpo, which most would guess. The Celtics are right at .500 themselves for the year, but they have the firepower to be much better. If Jayson Tatum comes out firing and Jaylen Brown plays to his potential, they have a chance to make things very interesting.
It might be tempting to go with the home team in this match-up, but the Celtics look like a franchise that could steal this game. Take them as the underdog, as they don’t even need to necessarily win to earn gamblers the payout.
Pick: Boston Celtics +3.5
Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns -5.5
The two most impressive teams in the NBA so far this year have been the Golden State Warriors and the Phoenix Suns. Taking a quick look at players out due for one reason or another, this has the potential to be the most star-studded game of the day as well. Golden State has a little bit more to deal with missing Andrew Wiggins, Andre Iguodala, Jordan Poole, and of course, Klay Thompson, but they’ll still have plenty of talent to make it competitive.
The two teams played twice this year so far, with the home team winning both. The key here will be whether or not Golden State‘s defense can remain strong while missing some pieces. Phoenix will try to put up some points in a hurry, but Golden State is winning games because they’re getting stops. Of course, it also helps that Steph Curry is still finding ways to score at will.
Expect a good amount of points in this one, but the Suns look like they are much improved now that Devin Booker is back from his injury. This is likely the closest game of the day, but Phoenix pulls away late and does just enough to cover.
Pick: Phoenix Suns -5.5
Brooklyn Nets at Los Angeles Lakers
Los Angeles Lakers -1.5
This is one Christmas game that looked a lot better on paper than it does going into the actual game. What was supposed to be a huge collection of future Hall of Famers battling it out has turned into a game where no one knows just how many greats play.
James Harden received clearance to play, so Brooklyn will have at least him to carry the offense. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are still in the league‘s health and safety protocols, so there’s a good chance they miss the game on Saturday. It’s been a story of missing players all season long for Brooklyn, and they’ve dealt with postponed games as well since their team’s been hit hard with COVID-19.
As for the Lakers, they are missing some players, but they’re also missing chemistry in general. Anthony Davis is the biggest guy out for them, as he’ll miss a good amount of time due to a knee injury. That means even more of a burden for LeBron James, who’s forced to play a lot of minutes and has appeared a little bit slower than in the past because of it.
One x-factor in this game could be Isiah Thomas coming in and filling up the score sheet. The small point guard is back in the NBA and trying to make the most of this opportunity. Everyone knows he can score in a hurry, but he’s also a defensive liability at times.
If news comes out that Durant or Irving can play, the pick changes. However, with the way everything stands right now, it’s probably best to take the Lakers at home. They’ll be motivated on Christmas Day to show that they are much better than the record indicates. The Nets just don’t have the talent that’s healthy and able to play to keep up.
Pick: Los Angeles Lakers -1.5
Dallas Mavericks at Utah Jazz
Utah Jazz -12.5
The final game of the Christmas Day schedule has the Dallas Mavericks going to Utah to play the Jazz. Many thought that the Mavericks would take the next step this year, but so far they looked pretty lackluster. Utah’s as predictable as it gets in the NBA right now, so they seem like the stronger team going into this matchup.
Another thing working in Utah’s favor is that they are one of the only NBA teams that have stayed relatively Covid-free in the last few weeks. They’ve won 9 of their last 11 games, and they are facing a depleted Mavericks team. This has all the makings of a blowout to end Christmas Day.
There is a chance that Kristaps Porziņģis plays, but it seems very unlikely that Luka Doncic will be able to step up. Dallas just won’t have the talent to do anything against Utah. The spread has jumped to 12.5 points, but Utah should still be able to cover. It’s not like Utah puts up a ton of points, but they should be able to keep this Dallas team well under 100. That means even with an off-shooting night, Utah still prevails with ease.
Pick: Utah Jazz -12.5