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NBA Christmas Day Betting Preview: Nets vs. Lakers

Betting insight and analysis as the Lakers host the Nets on Christmas in a clash of two teams with title aspirations.

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, let’s get into the games.

SI’s Ben Pickman rejoins me as a guest picker to make selections for Brooklyn vs. L.A.

Season record: 49-46-1
Guest pickers: 32-58

Editor's Note: All stats, records and odds are as of Dec. 23

Check the Latest NBA Lines at SI Sportsbook

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) and LeBron James, right, celebrate after Westbrook scored a 3-point basket during overtime of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.

Brooklyn Nets (21-9) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (16-16)

Time: 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Spread: Nets +1.5 (-118) | Lakers -1.5 (+110)
Moneyline: Nets (+100) | Lakers (-118)
Total: Under 233.5 (-118) | Over 233.5 (+100)
Injuries: Nets F Blake Griffin—Day-to-day; Nets C LaMarcus Aldridge—Out; Nets F Kevin Durant—Out; Nets G James Harden—Out; Nets G Kyrie Irving—Out; Nets F Nic Claxton—Day-to-day; Lakers F LeBron James—Day-to-day; Lakers G Malik Monk—Out; Lakers F Trevor Ariza—Day-to-day; Lakers G Austin Reaves—Out; Lakers G Avery Bradley—Out

James Harden cleared COVID-19 protocols and should be back to play against the Lakers. So, Brooklyn will have at least one if its Big 3 for this marquee matchup.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving remain in the league’s health and safety protocols, which could keep them sidelined Saturday. COVID-19 outbreaks have prevented the Nets from playing since Saturday. Brooklyn has three postponed games so far, tied for the most in the league with the Bulls.

Durant’s scoring will be sorely missed if he can’t go, but Harden’s playmaking can ensure that the rest of the team is involved against the Lakers’ poor defense. Brooklyn’s offense ranks 11th in scoring (109.7 PPG) and 10th in defense (106.3 PPG). Granted, much of that has been with Durant on the court—the team is 1-2 without him since the games he wouldn’t have been available for were postponed.

Los Angeles is on a three-game losing streak, with its defeats coming by an average of 13.7 points. That stretch followed three straight wins that the Lakers strung together to bring them back to .500. Los Angeles has a home game against the Spurs Thursday night before its first meeting of the season with the Nets.

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LeBron James is shouldering the load for the Lakers with Anthony Davis out for several weeks with a knee injury. James is playing 37 minutes per game, which would be his highest mark since the 2016-17 season. The Lakers have also relied heavily on Isaiah Thomas, who was picked up last week due to availability issues. Thomas is playing 26.2 minutes per game and averages 11.7 points in three games with the team. 

Los Angeles' offense is slipping—it’s now ranked 10th (109.8 PPG), while the defense comes in at 27th in points allowed (111.2 PPG).

Kyle Wood’s Bets:

Spread pick: Lakers -1.5

If the Lakers are playing the version of the Nets that lost to the Magic at home, A.K.A. no Kevin Durant, they should cover this spread easily. Even though Los Angeles has its own issues, it still has James, the best player on the floor in this situation. The Lakers have the worst Against the Spread (ATS) record in the NBA (12-20) and Brooklyn isn’t much better (12-17-1). Still, I like the Davis-less Lakers to beat the short-handed Nets.

Over/Under pick: Under 233.5

L.A. was held under 100 points in two of its last three games, both of which were losses. Brooklyn, meanwhile, scored just 93 points in its last games. Nets games stay under more than 56% of the time, while the Lakers do so in 50% of their games. This is shaping up to be the Christmas Day of unders. It’s hard to see these teams combining for 234 points given the rosters they’re potentially trotting out on the court.

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) attempts a layup as Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Detroit.

Guest Picker Ben Pickman’s Bets:

Spread pick: Lakers -1.5

James Harden, Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter have all been cleared from the NBA’s health and safety protocols and are expected to play Saturday. But the Nets' roster will still be a shell of itself when they face Los Angeles. Durant, Irving, Bruce Brown and LaMarcus Aldridge are just some of the Brooklyn players that will still be absent for the contest, putting a damper on what initially looked like a star-studded affair.

The good thing for the Nets is the Lakers will not be at full strength either. Los Angeles announced last week that Davis will be out at least four weeks with an MCL sprain. The Lakers have also dealt with their own COVID-19 issues with four players and coach Frank Vogel still in the protocols as of Thursday afternoon.

Still, more of their core has remained active and the depth (at least comparatively on Saturday) of the Lakers give them a slight edge.

Over/Under pick: Under 233.5

The Nets and Lakers have been two of the worst offensive teams in the leagues since Saturday, Dec. 11. As of Thursday evening, the Lakers were last in the league in offensive rating since that date, scoring just 98 points per 100 possessions. The Nets were far better than that (totaling 110.2 points per 100 possessions) but stood at just No. 18 in offensive rating. Defensively, however, both have been top ten in that span. With so much recent flux on both roster it’s hard to imagine this as a high-scoring affair. Take the under and enjoy the gift of a low-scoring game.

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