For all the consternation over whether the league would so drastically abbreviate its offseason that we’d get Christmas games, it sure is nice to have this tradition alive and well. Ignoring family just isn’t as much fun when there’s nothing to keep your attention.
And ooo boy, did the NBA give us some attention-getters. Of the nine teams with the highest over/under win totals heading into the season, eight are in action on Friday, with the Sixers being the lone exception. The two teams playing that Vegas doesn’t love as much this year, the Pelicans and Warriors, employ arguably the two most enjoyable player in the league to watch on any given night. In short, the ham will be extra juicy, the mashed potatoes extra buttery, and the stuffing extra…stuffed.
New Orleans Pelicans vs Miami Heat Predictions
Both teams are coming off in-state road games on Wednesday night, with the Pels beating the displaced Raptors in Tampa Bay, 113-99, and the Heat dropping one to the Orlando Magic, 113-107.
This line feels like last year’s Eastern Finals representative getting its due respect against a squad that didn’t make the playoffs last year and wet the bed in the bubble, whereas it might actually be a fresh, young, hungry squad under that received a huge coaching upgrade versus a team with some older key pieces that is taking its time to ramp up the season.
Zion Williamson is healthy, was a rebound away from a 24-point triple double in their first game, and J.J. Redick looked great in his role as sixth man. It’ll be enough to keep this one close.
The pick: Pelicans +5
Golden State Warriors vs Milwaukee Bucks Predictions
Golden State has had two days to think about what an unsettling opening night loss to Brooklyn that felt as much about just how far the mighty Warriors have fallen as it did Brooklyn’s potential dominance this season. Life doesn’t get any easier, as they stay on the road, this time to face off against the team with the highest over/under win projection (49.5) by a full three games, and which had by far the best net rating in the sport (+9.4) last season.
Almost regardless of their opponent though, Steve Kerr’s team has to be looking itself in the mirror and questioning what they see. For three years, the Warriors had the luxury of employing arguably three of the best five shooters ever. Now two of them are gone, and while Steph Curry’s 2-for-10 showing from deep on Tuesday can be brushed aside, Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr going a combined 2-for-12 from long range won’t be as easy.
That is the reality the Warriors now face as just another NBA team that has to work extra hard for their buckets. Worse yet, the Bucks team they’re facing dropped a tough opener to the Celtics, 122-121, but looked solid in the process. They may not have as much depth as last season, but against a Golden State team that isn’t nearly as deep as Boston, it shouldn’t matter.
This line started at Milwaukee -7.5 and has jumped up two points since posting. It hasn’t gone up enough.
The pick: Bucks -9.5
Dallas Mavericks vs Los Angeles Lakers Predictions
The Lakers, perhaps still basking in the glow of their ring ceremony, sleepwalked through the first 10 minutes of the game, falling behind 39-17. They ended up tying the game midway through the third but ran out of gas and lost to the Clippers by seven. More importantly, in the 28 minutes of court time for LeBron – who is still working himself into game shape – the Lakers outscored their crosstown rivals by two.
This is probably also a good time to remember that the Lakers also started off last season by dropping a game to the Clippers…and then proceeded to reel off seven straight with an average margin of victory of 13.4, starting with a nine-point win against Utah. If they dropped this game to start off 0-2, they’d be the first to do so since the 2011-12 Mavericks, who notably lost starting center Tyson Chandler and 6th man JJ Barea from their title team.
Before Dallas, the reigning champ to lose back to back out of the gate was indeed these Lakers, but that squad was coming off a three-peat and facing a good deal of internal strife. In short, don’t expect LeBron & Co. to lost this one at home.
But that doesn’t mean they’ll cover. The Mavs feature the pre-season MVP favorite in Luka Doncic, but in their opener against the Suns, he looked a lot like James on those early Cleveland teams. After his 32 points, no one else had more than a dozen, and the offense without Kristaps Porzingis was definitely missing some pop.
The pick: Lakers -6
Los Angeles Clippers vs Denver Nuggets Predictions
A rematch of last year’s comeback upset in the second round, this is the toughest game of the day to peg.
On one hand, you’d figure that the Nuggets – tabbed by many as an inner-circle Finals contender – will be hell bent to avoid an 0-2 start, especially after a disappointing opening loss that saw Nikola Jokic turn the ball over on the final play, leading to the game winner for Sacramento.
Jamal Murray was terrible in that game, fouling out after making just one of his nine field goals. He will be better, if only because he can’t be much worse.
On the other hand, the Clippers looked fantastic for moments of their opener, but the question remains as to whether they benefited from a Laker team that took an extra 20 minutes to get past their glitzy ring ceremony.
This is essentially a pick’em, and the Clippers are the team with more to prove.
The Pick: Clippers -1
Brooklyn Nets vs Boston Celtics Predictions
If you squinted on opening night, you could look at the guys running around in the black jerseys and see the same general outline of the Warriors team that dominated the league to the tune of 182 wins from 2016 to 2019.
Those were the three seasons that Kevin Durant suited up for Golden State alongside Steph Curry & Co. Historically speaking, Kyrie Irving is no Curry, but he’s one of the few players who can approximate Steph’s combination of range, shot-making and wizardry with the ball. His kinship with KD seems every bit as synergized as what either of them shared with their former MVP co-stars, and they were a +26 in just 25 minutes together on the court in game one.
Toss in Joe Harris playing the role of Klay Thompson, Spencer Dinwiddie approximating Draymond Green’s secondary playmaking from the guard spot and Caris LeVert looking like an Iguodala-esque Sixth Man of the Year candidate, and it’s not hard to see this Nets team being a serious problem for the rest of the league.
The team they’re facing figures to be a more difficult opponent than Curry and the Stephets though. Boston looked the part in beating Milwaukee on Wednesday, with Tatum and Brown combining for 63.
But this line is too close to pass up. Without a home crowd, the better team wins.
The pick: Nets -2.5