By Max Cohen
For me, this is one of the more intriguing matchups of the day. Philadelphia comes into The Garden fresh off of five straight losses, four of which were within single digits. Both teams are expecting their star players return, Joel Embiid for the Sixers and Kristaps Porzingis for New York. The Knicks have been up and down the entire year, but one thing they are able to count on is their home court advantage. Philadelphia is 7-9 on the road, while New York holds a home record of 15-5 and boasts that same record ATS at home. I think Kristaps has a huge game and the game ends up close, but the Knicks will pull it out and cover with free throws at the end.
My pick: Knicks
Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors (GSW -5.0)
A rematch of the last three finals is definitely the premier matchup of the day with one glaring missing piece, Kyrie Irving. Kyrie, in conservative terms, was the Warriors’ kryptonite while on the Cavaliers. He always showed out against them, both in the finals and on Christmas Day last year. Less Kyrie and plus Isaiah Thomas, the Cavs will have to overcome a huge deficit in their ability to score the basketball in late game situations. Steph Curry’s status for Monday is still questionable, but coach Steve Kerr said it would be “irresponsible” to play him so I don’t expect Curry to suit up for this one. Even without Steph, the Warriors always have an edge against the Cavs, and being in California at Oracle will only add to the intensity. Cleveland is 6-0 ATS as road underdogs, but I expect they’ll get their first loss in that category on Christmas.
My pick: Warriors
A rematch of last year’s seven-game conference semifinals between two teams that absolutely hate each other. Additionally, this season each team is equipped with a Morris twin of their own so hopefully we get brother on brother crime because who doesn’t love a good sibling fight. Washington has John Wall back and you know he would love to deliver the Celtics a home loss after a crushing game seven defeat last year. The Celtics have cooled off since their scorching hot start to the season and Washington is still trying to regain the regular-season consistency that they have enjoyed over the past few years. The Wizards are 9-3 ATS as underdogs and I am taking them to cover on Christmas Day. I think they get their revenge and not only cover, but win the game as well.
My pick: Wizards
Houston Rockets at Oklahoma City Thunder (HOU -2.5)
Another 2017 playoff rematch with a few more personal storylines. James Harden, the clear MVP favorite this season, faces off against his old team and former Thunder teammate who took home the MVP title last year in Russell Westbrook. The Rockets are coming off two straight losses against the Lakers and Clippers, respectively, while the Thunder are riding in on a four game win streak. In the playoffs last year the Rockets dominated the Thunder but they did not have current weapons Carmelo Anthony or Paul George. Both players have struggled with their shots this season, but being in Oklahoma City should help them and the team. ATS, the Thunder are 6-11 after a win and I don’t see that record improving in this post-win matchup either. I have Houston running away with this one.
My pick: Rockets
Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers (MIN -5.0)
The final game of the night features to teams full of young and talented players. The Wolves have won four of their last five, while the Lakers are coming off a tough stretch of games that has included the Cavs, Houston and Golden State (twice). Staples Center should be rocking as it is the first time since 2013 that the team is exciting and fun to watch on Christmas Day. Los Angeles doesn’t have many answers to Karl Anthony Towns’ offense so he should be able to put up some big numbers on that end. Although KAT may have a big night I still think the Lakers will be fueled enough by their home crowd and play a close game that comes down to the final possession.
My pick: Lakers