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 Wilton Jackson joins me as the guest picker for this high-stakes meeting between the Warriors and Suns.
Season record: 49-46-1
Guest pickers: 32-58
Editor's Note: All stats, records and odds are as of Dec. 23
Time: 5 p.m. ET, ABC
Spread: Warriors +3.5 (-110) | Suns -3.5 (-110)
Moneyline: Warriors (+138) | Suns (-163)
Total: Under 227.5 (-118) | Over 227.5 (+100)
Injuries: Warriors G Andrew Wiggins—Out; Warriors G Jordan Poole—Out; Warriors F Andre Iguodola—Out; Warriors G Damion Lee—Out; Suns C Frank Kaminsky—Out
Three losses in December technically counts as a step back for the Warriors after a two-loss November. But they’re playing like a Finals favorite. Steph Curry is unstoppable, Draymond Green is doing Draymond Green things on defense and Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole are doing everything asked of them as secondary scorers, though Wiggins and Poole may miss this game. Golden State’s last two losses have been on the road and both were by nine points or more.
The home team has won each game in this season series thus far.
Curry’s three-point shooting gets the most focus and for good reason, but it’s Golden State’s top-ranked defense that’s leading to such great success.
The Warriors allow the fewest points (101 PPG) in the NBA and pair that elite defense with the No. 4 scoring offense (111.5 PPG).
The Suns are 2-0 since getting Devin Booker back from injury. He was injured in the first meeting between these two teams, a Suns win, and missed the next few weeks. He returned Dec. 19 and filled up the stat sheet in two games, hitting 10 threes and grabbing 15 rebounds. Chris Paul’s expert playmaking and league-leading 10 assists per game surely helped incorporate Booker back into the offense.
Phoenix, like Golden State, ranks top five in scoring (111.8 PPG) and points allowed (104.1 PPG). The third meeting of this possible Western Conference Finals preview matters a lot in the battle for the NBA's best record, which the Suns currently hold.
Kyle Wood’s Bets:
Spread pick: Warriors +3.5
I’m going to jump on the Warriors getting points at any chance I get. Golden State has the second-best Against the Spread (ATS) record in basketball (19-10-2). Curry has the individual dominance and playmaking ability to make up for potentially missing his two best scoring wings. I think the Warriors slow the game down and keep it close, if they don’t sneak a win outright against their fiercest competition out west.
Over/Under pick: Under 227.5
Great offenses meet great defenses. Great defense prevailed in the last two matchups. With the likelihood that some of the leading scorers in this game are out, I’m even more inclined to go under this rather high point total.
Guest Picker Wilton Jackson’s Bets:
Spread pick: Suns -3.5
I have enjoyed watching the Warriors return to a place of major prominence—pre-2019-20 season—even without Klay Thompson in the lineup as he inches closer to his return. The NBA is better when the Warriors are good. Steph Curry is having an MVP-caliber season as well. However, I am picking against Curry and the Warriors and going with the Suns in this splash of electrifying talent. Chris Paul—with all the doubters and things he has faced in his career—is the catalyst who makes this young Suns’ team exciting to watch.
The Suns are building on another winning streak, entering Thursday with five consecutive wins. The Warriors will also be without Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins—the second- and third-leading scorers as well as two of the top defenders for Golden State—due to COVID- 19 protocols. The Warriors’ defense could be limited in slowing down the trio of Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges and company, as well as not produce enough points to keep up in the game.
Over/Under pick: Under 227.5
When the two teams first played in November, the Suns won that matchup with huge performances from Ayton, Paul and a strong defensive performance from Bridges, who held Curry to 12 points. Phoenix won despite Booker suffering an injury.
When the Warriors earned their victory three days later, Curry returned to prime “Chef Curry” form along with Wiggins and Green stepping up. Booker did not play.
When the Suns’ offense is clicking with the use of the high pick-and-roll, Booker and company are hitting shots and the defense is scrappy and limits scoring opportunities. Curry, along with Green, Andre Iguodala and Juan Toscano-Anderson, would have to post incredible performances in this game to win. In the previous two games between the two teams, the combined points were 200 and 214. If the Suns’ defense is solid in this game, which I think that it will be, I really like the under here.
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