The 2020-21 NBA season is officially underway, and because of the late start this year, we’re jumping right into the Christmas Day festivities. As always there are five marquee games on the schedule, with the league gifting fans a full day of exciting basketball.
With that being the case, CBS Sports’ team of NBA experts has come together in order to provide fans with their picks against the spread for each of the five games on the league’s docket for Friday. You can find our picks for each of the five games scheduled for Christmas Day, as well as the reasoning behind those selections, below.
All lines via William Hill Sportsbook
This is a “take the points” game, not necessarily because it will be close enough that they matter, but because of the uncertainty surrounding both sides here. Miami losing to Orlando is, in itself, not overly concerning, but it’s clearly working out a rotation that feels a bit crowded. Meyers Leonard and Avery Bradley didn’t play in the opener, and the Heat took only 20 3-pointers, which would have been their second-fewest attempts last season.
The Pelicans looked great in the opener, but what are we supposed to make of a team with so little theoretical shooting making 19 3s against the Raptors, who, by the way, are playing 1,300 miles away from home right now? The Pelicans being the team that looked good is a bonus here. In truth, this is just a dangerous game, and if you’re betting it, you should take the points.
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The Bucks had the NBA’s best net rating last season at plus-9.4, and as the playoffs showed, they didn’t exactly earn it by beating contenders. No, they fattened up on the NBA’s worst teams, running off enormous blowouts against opponents that couldn’t keep up physically. Well, it might be blasphemous to speak this way about the Warriors, but that’s where they are right now. The Nets ran them off of the floor on opening night for entirely explainable reasons.
They are missing their best defender (Draymond Green), starting a rookie at center (James Wiseman) and have no above-average defenders left in their rotation. Of course, they’re going to give up a bunch of points. Curry is the only above-average shooter in the starting five. Naturally, that limits spacing. Maybe there’s a version of the Warriors that puts it all together but remember, they were outscored by 47 points in the first four games of last season, too. Even with Curry, this might just be a bad team now.
In a strange way, this line is an acknowledgment that Vegas doesn’t value the Warriors either. The Nets looked great, but aren’t getting much love yet from the books. That’s probably because of Boston’s impressive opening win against the Bucks, but as well as the Celtics played in that game, the bigger picture issues remain. They’re still going to struggle to create shots without Kemba Walker. The center rotation is still in flux. Jayson Tatum can’t be Superman every night.
That’s an advantage the Nets have over almost any opponent. If Kevin Durant is off, Kyrie Irving might be on. Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie can pick up both of their slack. The odds of Brooklyn struggling to score on any given night are almost nonexistent because of how many shot-creators it has. Boston doesn’t have that luxury unless Jeff Teague really is as good as he looked on opening night. With that seeming unlikely, Brooklyn is the safer bet.
The Lakers at full strength should be able to beat the Mavericks without Kristaps Porzingis pretty comfortably. The Lakers just don’t seem to be at full strength right now, and that’s by choice. LeBron James played 28 opening night minutes. Anthony Davis played 31. If these teams meet in the playoffs, those two are hovering around 80 combined minutes. They didn’t even reach 60 against the Clippers, and that should be the expectation as the defending champions ease into things following their shortened offseason.
So essentially, there are three ways this game can go. Maybe the Lakers blow the Mavericks out and rest doesn’t matter. But if it’s close throughout, even with a more engaged James and Davis, six points seems like a reasonable buffer. And then, of course, there’s the chance that the Mavericks jump out to an early lead and the Lakers punt the game away by halftime. From a gambling perspective, these scenarios favor Dallas.
Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers: Clippers -1
We can’t talk about this game without mentioning the revenge factor, but let’s table that for a moment and just talk basketball. Denver lost Jerami Grant and Torrey Craig this offseason, arguably its two best wing defenders. The Nuggets are about to play against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, who looked quite good in the opener. When you factor in the loss of Mason Plumlee, age-related Paul Millsap decline and an uptick in Michael Porter Jr. minutes, Denver’s overall frontcourt defense took a massive step back. Unsurprisingly, the Kings took advantage by getting 53 shots in the paint in the opener.
That’s a weak spot that the Clippers can take advantage of, and with Serge Ibaka in tow, they now have a way of at least somewhat mitigating Denver’s biggest advantage — Nikola Jokic bully ball. The matchup has swung back in the Clippers’ direction a bit, and yes, revenge is likely on their minds as well.