First off, Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays, if that greeting is more apropos)! I hope you are having a wonderful day wherever you may be. And since you are reading this, you are obviously a sports-fan, so no need for me to explain the awesome NBA presents you get to unwrap this afternoon. Yes, the Cleveland trip to Golden State is about as good as the NBA has been in a decade, but the undercards offer some great treats too. The day starts with Anthony Davis, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Then we get Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Pau Gasol, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose (OK, so the last one may not be quite the gift it used to be…). And the evening winds down with Kawhi Leonard and the ageless Timmy Duncan matched up against the Rockets with Harden and Dwight.
And stay up late tonight. It’s worth it. Even if he shoots 4 for 95, don’t you want to see Kobe lace ‘em up one last Christmas? I know I do. And I hope he plays his ass off (though I am not betting real money on it…)
So enjoy the wonderful Holiday and some of the best the NBA has to offer, and hopefully we can make it an even more special Holiday by putting a pair of winners in your NBA stockings.
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Today’s Free Pick:
San Antonio Spurs -7 at Houston Rockets (Total: 201.5)
The Rockets have stumbled and fumbled this season, and at times have looked remarkably disinterested on defense. But of late they have been playing pretty good basketball, and for some reason they play the Spurs very well historically. Dwight Howard is over .500 against them personally in his career and has always been a difficult matchup for Tim Duncan. He has also been an offensive force against San Antonio, shooting 71.7% from the floor last year on 33-46 shooting. Look for him to have a good game today at home on Christmas.
And he may very well need too. As favorable as the matchup has been for Dwight, it has been equally difficult for James Harden. Like MOST people, he finds life difficult when Kawhi Leonard is sticking to him like a shadow all afternoon. Harden will still finagle some fouls and get to the line, but certainly won’t get easy shots this afternoon.
It’s tough to bet against the Spurs. They have beaten teams by an average of 21.2 points during their current seven game winning streak. But they are on the road, and Houston has been markedly better the last three weeks (maybe it was McHale’s fault (j/k).
Houston has lost three straight against the Spurs (last game VERY close) but have won the six games before that. I am not sure they get the win straight up – San Antonio looks nearly unbeatable right now, but getting seven points at home on Christmas? I’ll take Houston to cover. They are a decent defensive team when they WANT to be. I think today will evoke just enough “want to” to get a good performance.
Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors -7
Kyrie is back healthy, so now the Cavs finally get the matchup they claim they WOULD HAVE won last June. I’m not so sure Kyrie gets them ahead of Golden State, but it certainly does make things more interesting. The problem I forsee is that Kyrie is not a plus defender like a Russell Westbrook or a Mike Conley. In fact, he is considered one of the poorer pick and roll defenders in the league. So what on Earth is Cleveland going to do against the high Draymond ball screen? And how do they plan on accounting for Steph in transition? You can slide Iman Shumpert his way, but then Klay probably runs wild. So is Cleveland really ready to go into the Roaricle and win on Christmas Day?
I don’t think so.
This game means a TON to Cleveland. But it also means a TON to Golden State. This team is acutely aware of the criticism and critiques; they didn’t play anyone healthy, their style is too soft, they can’t beat a real physical balanced team. And it frankly pisses them off. They take it personally and I think they will play like it today. Cleveland has been good but not great this season. Some of it is injuries, but some of it could be that they really aren’t as good as Golden State or San Antonio.
I think this game will be fun, but I also think Golden State will have their foot on the gas and be looking for the kill shot today. Seven points is a lot. I’d feel better in the 4.5 range, but seven it is, so seven we shall lay. I’m riding Golden State this season until I get a compelling reason not to. And I don’t think that evidence surfaces today.
Cleveland is just 6-6 straight up on the road and 5-7 ATS. Golden State has a +17.6 point differential at home. I’m sticking with The Dubs.