It’s the re-match we’ve all been waiting for. And courtesy of Santa Claus, Christmas Day brings the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers back together for the first time since the Dubs comprehensive victory in the 2015 NBA Finals.
And although both will argue that, in the end, it is just one more regular season game, we might get a few pointers to whether the champs remain a class above or if the Cavs, with Kyrie Irving once again in uniform, have the tools to genuinely contend come June.
With Cleveland coming in off a six-game winning streak, the arrival of Irving has the potential to allow David Blatt to run his full rotation and utilise a roster that has been tweaked to take account of the Warriors’ strengths to the full.
The All Star guard has averaged only 8.5 points in limited minutes in his two games back and when he fully hits his stride, he figures to help an offense that is scoring 101.4 per game – a drop of 1.7 from last term – while giving up 95.2 per night.
The Cavaliers might need a little more help to see off Golden State whose win differential in their remarkable 27-1 start is +13.5. Even if he will not want to overplay his hand, Friday offers a golden chance for Blatt to test a strategy for limiting Steph Curry and Klay Thompson at the same time.
But there’s a reason Curry is a stunning 1.27 favourite for a repeat MVP, well ahead of LeBron James at 8.00. Golden State, a perfect 13-0 at home, have the pace and the confidence to force their rivals into a shootout.
Once Irving is back in full flow, this might be more of a fair fight. For now, bank on the Warriors on a handicap of -3.5 help themselves to some seasonal cheer.
But meaningless? Not a bit.
Best Christmas bet: Go over 203.5 total points in Golden State – Cleveland
The rest of the fest…
Miami – New Orleans
The Heat’s defence has been superlative. The Pelicans have just been disappointing despite a rout of Portland on Wednesday. They can get better but it will be a slow build.
Take Heat by -4.5
Oklahoma – Chicago
After Fred Hoiberg’s public critique by Jimmy Butler, the Bulls coach is under the spotlight. A bad time then to run into Russell Westbrook and the rolling Thunder, especially with Joakim Noah sidelined.
Go over 204.5 total points
Houston – San Antonio
The defensively-challenged Rockets have kept firing despite rumours of discord but they melted against Orlando in midweek. Now they get a first meeting of the season from the Spurs who have won seven in a row while giving up 100 points on only six occasions in their 25-5 start.
Take Spurs by -2.5
LA Lakers – LA Clippers
Not so much a derby, more a Hollywood horror story for the woeful Lakers and the under-achieving Clippers who have dropped three losses in succession. With Kobe Bryant’s mini-revival, the Clips will be wary of any Lakers revival.
Go over 210.5 total points