BettorIQ’s NBA Christmas Day Betting Preview
Despite the late and unprecedented start to the NBA season, Christmas Day remains a major event for the league, with a series of quality matchups running throughout the holiday. Let’s take a look at a couple of these games and see where bettors might find some value.
New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat -4.5 O/U 225: UNDER
This game tips off at Noon ET and features a Miami team largely running it back after a somewhat surprising run to the NBA Finals in the Bubble last fall, against a New Orleans team looking to take a leap into the playoffs on the back of a reportedly unburdened Zion Williamson. While both teams do possess high-level offensive units, the total does seem a little high for this early season encounter. Miami ranked 12th in defensive rating last season, at 109.3, while New Orleans ranked 21st, at 111.8. Despite this, there are some factors that suggest this may not be the high-scoring game a total of 227.5 suggests. Miami is coming off of the shortest offseason in league history, having played 21 games in the bubble. The Heat’s last campaign did not end until October 11. With a historic lack of recovery time, head coach Erik Spoelstra and a multitude of Heat players have stressed that the team will have to ease into this season. The offense may need more time to get up to speed than the defense. Goran Dragic will play to start the year, but is coming off an injury-plagued conclusion to the playoff run. Add to that the fact that the Heat will be playing on a quick one-day turnaround after facing Orlando on Wednesday, and Miami could be rusty and somewhat fatigued. We could well see the Heat’s key players receiving less than typical minutes.
In New Orleans, new head coach Stan Van Gundy has made it his mission in New Orleans to emphasize the importance of defense. At the beginning of training camp, he said: “Day 1 you want to set the tone. For us, it was defense, first and foremost. I thought it was important this year, with me coming in new, that we went right to that priority first.” Van Gundy is comfortable with his roster, including the idea of playing Zion Williamson alongside new addition Steven Adams, despite spacing concerns. The new boss has acknowledged his offense will look a lot different than the ‘pace-and-space’ units that have proliferated around the league. While New Orleans may not become a defensive juggernaut, the addition of Eric Bledsoe will lessen the blow of losing Jrue Holiday on that end of the floor. Steven Adams should provide a defensive presence in the lane, and will likely lead the Pelicans to play a slightly slower pace when he’s on the floor. Van Gundy will probably lean on a closing lineup of Bledsoe-Ball-Ingram-Zion-Adams. There’s offensive talent there, but a lack of shooting. Defensively, it should’ve be an effective unit. The combination of rust, an emphasis on defense, and an early afternoon start suggest this could be a somewhat sloppy affair.
Los Angeles Clippers -2.5 at Denver Nuggets O/U 224: Clippers
After a solid 49-23 regular season campaign last year, the Clippers were one of the favorites to win it all. What followed was a frustrating postseason that featured a tougher-than-expected first-round win against Dallas before an embarrassing collapse against these Denver Nuggets. The Clippers choked away a 3-1 series lead, and looked to come apart at the seams before quitting in Game 7. The offseason has been filled with stories about dysfunction within the locker room and organization. Preferential treatment of superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George reportedly sowed dissent down the roster. Gone is long-time head coach Doc Rivers, replaced by assistant Ty Lue. The hope is that Lue can do a better job managing the egos within the locker room, as he did to great effect during Cleveland’s championship season with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.
While there’s no doubt that the first year of this Win Now experiment was something of a disaster, the lack of faith in the Clippers seems like an overreaction. Last year, both Kawhi and George dealt with injuries, and the team had very little time together at full strength. Despite that, the Clippers finished second in offensive rating and fifth in defensive rating. The ridicule of the team throughout the short offseason seems to have brought the group together.
The Clippers have been presented with something of a mini-revenge tour to start the year. After watching the rival Lakers roll to a title, the team played with an edge on opening night, as it defeated the defending champs 116-109, behind 33 points from the much-maligned Paul George. Now, it’s off to Denver to face the team that exposed the fractures within last year’s group.
This Clippers roster seems even better-equipped to handle the Nuggets. Gone is Montrezl Harrell, who for all his offense and energy, was utterly roasted on the defensive end by Denver as it stormed back in the recent playoff series. Serge Ibaka has taken his place and should be a much better fit in this matchup.
To be sure, the Nuggets still present a challenge, but it’s important to remember that their victory over the Clippers in the postseason was considered a big upset. Los Angeles was favored by between 7.5 and 9.5 points in all seven games in that series and led by fifteen points in two of the last three defeats. A line of only a single point has to go down as an over correction , especially given that the Clippers have, if anything, a better roster this season. The Nuggets, meanwhile, lost Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant in the offseason. Denver should be even worse this season defending against top wing players, and Kawhi and Paul George do certainly still fit that bill. The Clippers have not been allowed to forget what Denver did to them in the bubble, and we should see a very energetic, focused, motivated effort in this spot.