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: 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Spread: Mavericks +5.5 (-110) | Jazz -5.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Mavericks (+175) | Jazz (-213)
Total: Under 224.5 (-125) | Over 224.5 (+105)
Injuries: Mavericks C Kristaps Porzingis—Day-to-day; Mavericks G Luka Doncic—Out; Mavericks C Willie Cauley-Stein—Out; Mavericks F Tim Hardaway Jr.—Out; Mavericks F Maxi Kleber—Out
The Jazz have largely stayed COVID-free and pretty much just keep winning. Utah is victorious in eight of its last 10 games and has a Thursday night game against Minnesota before its Christmas Day date with Dallas. Donovan Mitchell leads the team with 25 PPG and Rudy Gobert is scoring 15.4 PPG and grabbing 15 rebounds per game. Three other players average double digits, which contributes to the team’s average of 115.4 PPG, tops in the league. The defense, usually the hallmark of the Jazz, holds opponents to 105 PPG, the seventh-best mark in the league.
Dallas was disappointing with Luka Doncic in the lineup. Without him, the team is 3-6 and averages 1.5 fewer points per game than its season average. If Kristaps Porzgingis ends up playing against Utah, it would be a boost for the Mavericks but he would have to go up against Gobert and Utah’s fearsome defense. Dallas is 3-3 in its last six games and has a Thursday night game against Milwaukee before it meets the Jazz for the first time this season.
The Mavericks offense ranks 26th in scoring (104.7 PPG) but compensates with the No. 5 scoring defense (104.7 PPG). Dallas likes to keep its games low scoring. The team’s games go under 64.3% of the time, the third-highest mark in the NBA.
Kyle Wood’s picks
Spread pick: Jazz -5.5
I’m smashing Utah -5.5 points. The Jazz are 16-14 against the spread (ATS) this season and will enter Sunday hot. Utah is the better team on a neutral court with everyone available, and Doncic is out and this game will be played in Salt Lake City. This is easy, and I like the Jazz up to -8.5.
Over/Under pick: Over 224.5
I did say the Mavericks like to keep games low scoring. Well, Dallas won’t be dictating the pace—Utah will. Jazz games go over more than 50% of the time and this line isn’t high enough to scare me off. Utah’s offense is capable of going for 120-plus points on any given night, which means Dallas just needs to score around 100 for this game to get right around this number. With Porzingis in the lineup, that shouldn’t be too difficult for the Mavericks.
Guest picker Matt Ehalt’s picks:
Spread pick: Jazz -5.5
Sometimes you just have to follow the numbers. The Jazz are one of the best home teams ATS, while the Mavericks are just 7-8 as a road team. The Jazz are also a better team and the Mavericks are still inconsistent. Let's back the home team here, especially since Dallas had to travel for this game.
Over/Under pick: Under 224.5
Dallas games have a strong tendency to go under, and considering this is both teams' third game this week they may be a little tired. Both teams are also known for having a strong defense. Let's take the under here.
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