The NFL gets Thanksgiving. The NBA gets Christmas.
The NFL plays one game on Christmas this year too, but Dec. 25 has become a holiday for hoops fans. The NBA has done a brilliant job scheduling its most intriguing matchups for Christmas Day, turning it into a day-long celebration of the sport. Given the late start to this season, it also serves as a bit of a kickoff to the season this year.
Some of the league’s best teams and players will be in the spotlight, and here’s a betting preview for each game with the spreads from BetMGM (and all times Eastern):
New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat (-5.5), 12 p.m.
It will be weird to not see the New York Knicks on Christmas, even though they had turned into the NBA’s version of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. It’s the smart move, because the NBA can highlight one of its most marketable stars against the defending Eastern Conference champs in the first game of the day.
Zion Williamson’s rookie season was limited due to an injury and the Pelicans being careful with him. This season he shouldn’t have the same limitations. New Orleans is coming off a nice opening-night win at Toronto and perhaps this team will have a breakout. Miami struggled with Orlando on opening night. But the Heat are still a quality team and a contender in the East, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them bounce back.
Pick: Heat -5.5
Golden State Warriors at Milwaukee Bucks (-9), 2:30 p.m.
The Bucks might be a Christmas staple for a few more years, thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo signing a supermax extension. The back-to-back MVP is one of the league’s biggest draws for a team that has been very good in the regular season but hasn’t gotten to the NBA Finals yet.
Golden State has a former MVP too in Stephen Curry, but this isn’t a championship contending Warriors team anymore. An opening night loss to the Brooklyn Nets highlighted the lack of quality options after Curry, though rookie James Wiseman played well. Still, this is a pretty big spread and the Warriors are going to want to show something after being blown out in the opener.
Pick: Warriors +9
Brooklyn Nets (-2) at Boston Celtics, 5 p.m.
The question for the Celtics early this season will be how they adjust without Gordon Hayward, who left in free agency, and Kemba Walker, who is out with a knee injury. There’s still a lot of talent on the Celtics, and their stars played great in an opening-night win over the Bucks, but it will be tough for them against a deep Nets team.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant might have some nights off this season as Brooklyn tries to keep them healthy and fresh, but when the Nets are at full strength they will be tough to beat. We saw that when they cruised past the Warriors in the first game of the season.
Pick: Nets -2
Dallas Mavericks at Los Angeles Lakers (-6), 8 p.m.
The Lakers have the best roster in the NBA, and they came into the season as the clear championship favorite. But it’s also a team that barely had two months off after winning the NBA Finals and might not be locked into the early part of the regular season. The Clippers played very well in a win against the Lakers on opening night, with LeBron James playing just 28 minutes.
The Mavericks will be without big man Kristaps Porzingis early this season but they still have Luka Doncic, the preseason MVP favorite at BetMGM. Doncic struggled at the start of Wednesday’s opener against Phoenix, though he ended up with 32 points in a loss. The Lakers will be able to cruise against many teams when they’re focused and motivated, and maybe a Christmas showcase game sparks them, but the Lakers might be a team to fade early this season.
Pick: Mavericks +6
Los Angeles Clippers (-1.5) at Denver Nuggets, 10:30 p.m.
If you’re still wanting more hoops after four great games, here’s a late-night dessert. The Clippers are a good team and looked fantastic against the Lakers on opening night. The problem for the Nuggets might be that the Clippers can attack a weakness on their roster. The Nuggets’ defense on the wings is questionable, and they’ll have trouble with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic can score, but they’ll need to score a ton to overcome what George and Leonard might do. An opening-night loss to Sacramento wasn’t a good start for Denver, either.
Pick: Clippers -1.5