Christmas Day is to the NBA as Thanksgiving is to the NFL. Five games from noon to midnight featuring the league’s top teams and biggest stars. It’s basketball heaven.
That is, if it happens according to plan.
Due to an explosion of positive COVID-19 tests around the league, some of those top teams are short-handed and many stars are in the health and safety protocols instead of out on the court. ESPN reported Tuesday the 10 teams playing on Christmas were notified that game times may be altered if COVID-19 issues force changes.
Nine games have been rescheduled as of Wednesday, according to Hashtagbasketball.com. That includes three Nets games and one Hawks game, both of whom play on Christmas.
Players in the league’s health and safety protocols include: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Trae Young and Luka Doncic, according to CBS Sports’ running list. All of them are scheduled to play on Christmas if they are cleared to do so.
With all of those contingencies and availability concerns established, let’s get into the games. Pat Benson from AllHawks, SI’s FanNation site covering the Hawks, joins me to make sense of the Christmas Day showdown between the Hawks and Knicks.
Season record: 49-46-1
Guest pickers: 32-58
Editor's Note: All stats, records and odds are as of Dec. 23
Time: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Spread: Hawks +1.5 (-110) | Knicks -1.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Hawks (+100) | Knicks (-118)
Total: Under 218.5 (-110) | Over 218.5 (-110)
Injuries: Hawks G Kevin Huerter—Out; Hawks G Lou Williams—Out; Hawks G Trae Young—Out; Hawks C Clint Capela—Out; Knicks G Derrick Rose—Out; Knicks C Nerlens Noel—Out; Knicks G RJ Barrett—Out; Knicks G Immanuel Quickley—Out
The league likely didn’t expect either of these teams to be below .500 at this point when this game was scheduled. The Hawks have seriously underperformed considering their postseason run a season ago. The Hawks are 3-6 since the calendar turned to December and lost to the Knicks, 99-90, in late November.
Trae Young point guards the fourth-ranked scoring offense (111.5 PPG), but Atlanta’s 24th-ranked scoring defense (111 PPG) has it outside of a play-in tournament spot.
The Knicks have been similarly disappointing this season, especially this month where they are 3-9 with wins against the Spurs, Rockets and Pistons.
New York longs for playmaking with the Kemba Walker experiment already deemed a failure and now an injury sidelining Derrick Rose for several weeks. The Knicks rank 26th in field-goal percentage and 29th in assists per game.
Julius Randle leads New York in points, rebounds and assists, though his numbers are down across the board. The Knicks are the No. 22 scoring offense (105.8 PPG) and somewhat make up for that with the 13th-ranked scoring defense (106.9 PPG).
Kyle Wood’s Bets:
Spread pick: Hawks +1.5
These are two of the worst teams in the league Against the Spread, and they have nearly identical records. So, I’m making this pick based on shared hope with Trae Young. The Hawks' star tweeted Tuesday he’s asymptomatic and he hopes he won’t miss the Christmas game. I hope so too. If Young can play, I like him to put on a show at Madison Square Garden in his return and pilot Atlanta to a win.
Over/Under pick: Under 218.5
There’s always the chance that Young doesn’t play, and the Knicks aren’t exactly a prolific offense. That’s why I’m comfortable with the under. The Hawks scored just 98 points Tuesday despite Cam Reddish going off for 34 points, and New York has been held under triple digits two times in its last five games. Without Young, Atlanta can’t score and the Knicks are a poor offense no matter who’s on or off the floor.
Guest Picker Pat Benson’s Bets:
Trae Young took a bow Last June after completing a gentleman's sweep of the Knicks in the playoffs. In September, he further antagonized New Yorkers at WWE SmackDown. Since then, Young has played at an MVP-level this season.
Despite rules changes, which have decreased his free-throw attempts, Young is averaging a career-high 27.3 points and 9.3 assists per game.
No other player is in the top three in both statistical categories.
Thanks to their point guard's prolific offense, the Hawks have the second-best offensive rating and shoot a higher three-point percentage than any other team.
Unfortunately, both clubs have struggled due to illness and injuries in recent weeks.
Nevertheless, this will be an exciting game between two teams that not only dislike each other but have competing basketball philosophies—small-ball versus bully-ball.
Spread pick: Knicks -1.5
Although the Knicks are averse to scoring, I'm taking them to cover the spread. Not just because of the obvious home-court advantage, but because the Hawks have struggled against contenders. Almost all of their wins have come exclusively against losing teams. The Knicks have a more impressive resume through 30-plus games.
Over/Under pick: Under 218.5
Combine both teams’ average points per game, and it doesn't equal 218.5. Coupled with so many players out due to COVID-19, the under is a safe bet. Let's hope both rosters are healthy, and more importantly, Knicks fans don't spit on Trae Young again.
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