The NBA began playing Christmas games in their sophomore season . Television broadcasts started in 1967. Marketing consultants didn’t need to be consulted for the league to schedule top matchups on a day when everyone was at home with nothing to do except pretend they were listening to Uncle Dan.
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Who wouldn’t want to watch Bernard King post 60 points rather than hear another lecture on Ronald Reagan’s statesmanship? Or see Patrick Ewing rally the Knicks past the Celtics and bury Michael Jordan and the Bulls at the buzzer in ’85 and ’86 rather than Dan’s Reagonomics reprisals?
Although the Knicks carried the tradition through its early decades, the Lakers and Celtics took over the role just before the millennium turned. One or the other has featured since 1999. Both since 2008. When LeBron James made his Decision, the Miami Heat joined the act.
Now that LeBron has taken Robert Plant and Jimmy Page’s advice and gone to California, the blockbuster matchup is the Lakers v the Golden State Warriors.
After a sluggish start in LaLa Land, the King has his new team rolling. The Lakers are second in the Pacific [19-14 SU], behind the Warriors, fourth overall in the Western Conference.
Golden State is doing slightly better [23-11 SU] but isn’t the imperious side of recent years, as their .500 record away from the Oracle Arena demonstrates.
The Warriors are at home for this one, however, where they are 15-3 Straight Up. The Lakers are two games under .500 on the road.
In addition to entering hostile territory, LA arrives shorthanded. JaVale McGee’s 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game are a significant miss. Without him, they dropped a 107-99 decision to Memphis on Sunday. Tyson Chandler is also questionable after missing that game with back spasms.
The Warriors aren’t completely healthy although Damian Jones 5.4 ppg and 3.6 rpg are easier for Steve Kerr to replace.
Luke Walton’s one advantage in this matchup is familiarity. He coached Golden State during Kerr’s recovery from back problems in 2015/16. He knows the Warriors’ roster, Kerr’s tendencies, and how to deal with the hostile crowd. On the other hand, it hasn’t helped him yet. Kerr has won all but the first of their eight games since Walton became Lakers head coach in 2016.
Even with LeBron on the court at the Staples Center, it wasn’t close. The Warriors came away 117-106 winners while giving away six points to the LINE. They’re giving away nine at home.
Kerr’s squad welcomed the Christmas Eve amnesty after hosting the Mavericks and Clippers on back-to-back nights. They came away with wins in both but may be a little gassed on Christmas. Sunday night against the Clippers was a wide-open affair. It ended 129-127 with the Warriors only failing to score more than 30 in the final quarter.
Golden State tends to respond when opponents light them up. They’re 4-0 with the UNDER after giving up more than 125. The Under is also 8-1-1 following the Lakers’ last nine SU defeats and 6-1-1 in their last eight against .600+ teams.
That said, the OVER is running 28-11 in the series. Knowing that, I still expect it to be 28-12 come Boxing Day [!]. Both coaches will be emphasising defending, the Lakers are shorthanded, the Warriors fatigued.
The TOTAL is 235. While Golden State topped that on Saturday and Sunday, they didn’t in six of their previous seven. The Lakers have managed it in just three of their last ten. Both teams need to be at their best to hit that level. Neither is. Go with the Under.
Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.