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NBA predictions: Three picks for Christmas Day

Bet on the 76ers’ road woes to continue when they visit New York to tip off the NBA’s traditional holiday hoops feast

After sitting out their team's 106-104 home loss to the Knicks on Nov. 4, 76ers teammates James Harden (left) and Joel Embiid (right) are expected to be on the floor Sunday when Philadelphia visits New York. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
After sitting out their team's 106-104 home loss to the Knicks on Nov. 4, 76ers teammates James Harden (left) and Joel Embiid (right) are expected to be on the floor Sunday when Philadelphia visits New York. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)Read moreTimothy Nwachukwu / Getty Images

The NBA has some Christmas Day competition this year, with the NFL rolling out three games that will bleed into the Association’s entire five-game slate.

So let’s just say it’s unlikely that NBA commissioner Adam Silver sent a holiday card this year to Roger Goodell, his NFL counterpart.

One thing Silver has on Sunday that Goodell doesn’t: A compelling schedule of games involving a slew of stars and a bunch of quality teams.

In fact, eight of the 10 squads playing Sunday ended last week with winning records. Also, the top five NBA MVP candidates will be on the court.

Indeed, it’s going to be an action-packed Christmas Day — in more ways than one. And since we know you’re going to want to place a few wagers, here are our top three NBA predictions for Christmas Day.

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76ers vs. Knicks prediction

Both these teams are running hot.

The Knicks had an eight-game winning streak snapped in Wednesday’s 113-106 home loss to the Raptors. Meanwhile, Philadelphia closed out a perfect six-game homestand the same night with a 113-93 rout of Detroit.

New York covered the spread in all eight of its games during its run, while the Sixers went 5-1 ATS in front of the home fans.

Despite their loss to the Raptors, the Knicks have been solid at Madison Square Garden, winning 10 of their first 16 games. However, they only covered the spread in six of those contests (6-8-2 ATS).

As for the Sixers, they preceded their 6-for-6 homestand with an 0-for-3 road trip to Cleveland, Memphis and Houston.

Philadelphia also is 0-1 against New York this season, losing 106-104 at home as a 1.5-point favorite on Nov. 4. However, the 76ers played that game without Joel Embiid and James Harden.

Both will be on the floor Sunday, but point guard Tyrese Maxey — who had 31 points in the loss to the Knicks — will not. Maxey continues to nurse a foot injury that has sidelined him since mid-November.

Even with Embiid and Harden, it’s pretty clear that the 76ers are a different team at home (13-5 SU, 12-5-1 ATS) than on the road (5-7 SU and ATS).

So in what should be a close, low-scoring game, we’ll lean toward New York, which was the only home team to cover the spread on Christmas Day last year.

» READ MORE: Full sports betting coverage from The Philadelphia Inquirer

Bucks vs. Celtics prediction

The Bucks will have revenge on their minds when they visit Boston, which knocked Milwaukee out of last year’s playoffs in a thrilling seven-game series.

Getting that revenge won’t be easy, though. Not only are the Celtics neck-and-neck with the Bucks in the Eastern Conference standings, but Milwaukee could be without shooting forward Khris Middleton.

Middleton didn’t make his season debut until Dec. 2 because of an injury. Then after averaging just 11 points in seven games, he got hurt again at Memphis on Dec. 15.

Milwaukee ended up getting crushed by the Grizzlies 142-101 before winning two of its next three games without Middelton.

Obviously, Middleton wasn’t delivering a ton of offensive production when he was on the court. Still, his presence on both ends of the floor is key for Milwaukee. It’s particularly important on the road against Boston, which ranks second in the NBA in scoring.

Yes, the Celtics have hit the skids recently. They lost five of six games (0-5-1 ATS) — including three straight at home — following a 21-5 start to the season.

Sill, we favor the home team in this spot at what should be a value price, what with Boston in a spread-covering funk.

Suns vs. Nuggets prediction

What would Christmas Day be without at least one NBA prop bet? And we’ve got a solid one involving the two-time defending league MVP.

Nikola Jokic has been playing like a man possessed lately — and like a dude who absolutely wants to become the first player to win three straight MVPs since Larry Bird did it from 1984-86.

In a six-game stretch from Dec. 8 through Tuesday, Jokic delivered six double-doubles and three triple-doubles while posting this per-game stat line: 30.8 points, 14.5 points and 10.3 assists.

So we’re going to ride with The Joker to go Over his projected points/rebounds/assist prop against Phoenix on Sunday.

Jokic has at least 38 combined points, rebounds and assists in six straight games and 13 of 14 since missing three contests with an injury in mid-November. And he’s had 44 or more nine times during this stretch.

Jokic is “only” averaging 36 points/rebounds/assists in 22 career games against the Suns. However, last year — when Phoenix was by far the NBA’s best team in the regular season — Jokic put up the following stat lines in two contests:

  1. 27 points, 13 rebounds, two assists on the road

  2. 28 points, six rebounds, six assists at home

According to our math, that pencils out to 42 and 40.

As of late last week, Phoenix ranked sixth in the NBA in scoring offense at more than 115 points per game. But the Suns ranked seventh in points allowed, yielding 110.7 per game.

At that time, they also allowed the ninth-most rebounds and the fourth-most assists.

It all sets up for another monster night for Jokic — and in front of the home fans on the final game the day.

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