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Christmas Night Tip Sheet
By Kevin Rogers

Spurs (-6 ½, 200 ½) at Rockets – 8:00 PM EST

The biggest story through the first two months of the NBA season has been the Golden State Warriors, who have lost just once in 28 games. However, the Spurs (25-5 SU, 21-9 ATS) are right behind the Warriors in the Western Conference not only in the record department, but also winning in dominating fashion. San Antonio owns a +13.6 point differential, which is one-tenth of a point better than Golden State, while winning 11 of its past 12 games (nine victories by double-digits).

During this current seven-game winning streak, Gregg Popovich’s club has covered in all seven contests, although only two of those victories came away from the AT&T Center. The most recent triumph came on Wednesday at Minnesota as 11-point favorites in a 108-83 blowout of the Timberwolves, in spite of receiving only two points from Tim Duncan in 24 minutes. San Antonio’s defense has stepped up this season, allowing less than 100 points in 16 of the past 18 games, even though that has resulted in only 10 ‘unders.’

The Rockets (15-15 SU, 12-18 ATS) fell back to the .500 mark after losing at Orlando on Wednesday, 104-101 to snap a three-game winning streak. Houston shot 49% from the floor, led by James Harden’s 31 points, but Orlando knocked down 52% of its shots to hand the Rockets their third loss in their last four road contests. The totals keep dropping for the Rockets of late, going from 221 ½ at Sacramento on December 15 all the way down to 207 at Orlando in a five-game span, with all five contests going ‘under’ the total.

Handicapper Antony Dinero feels one of the big factors in this contest is how the Spurs are going to handle Hack-a-Howard with Rockets’ center Dwight Howard, “Since Howard’s career free-throw percentage against the Spurs (.543) is tied for the third-lowest among all 32 NBA teams he’s faced, it appears to get to him. Popovich sent him to the line 25 times in a Jan. ’14 game and 13 times once last season, albeit both in losses. At .514 percent, he’s currently sporting the third-worst clip of his career. This is a guy that shot It 67 percent as a 19-year-old rookie. It gets to him. Howard has shot it .458 thus far in December and has shot 7-for-21 (33 pct) in the last three games.

These two Texas rivals are meeting for the first time this season as the Spurs won three of four matchups last season. The Rockets have covered six of the last eight meetings dating back to the start of the 2013-14 season, while Houston has won four of the past five matchups with San Antonio at the Toyota Center.

Clippers (-11 ½, 207) at Lakers – 10:35 PM EST

The battle of Los Angeles closes out the Christmas card as the Clippers (16-13 SU, 10-16-3 ATS) look to end a three-game losing streak. Doc Rivers’ squad lost in the final seconds to the Thunder on Monday night, 100-99, as the Clippers have allowed at least 100 points in five of the past six contests. The Clips begin a five-game road trip (although technically they’ll be playing in their home building on Friday), as they have lost their last two away games at San Antonio and Houston.

The Lakers (5-24 SU, 10-19 ATS) should be happy not to see the Thunder anytime soon, as Los Angeles lost to Oklahoma City for the second time in a week by at least 35 points. In the first matchup last Saturday at OKC, the Lakers lost by 40 points to the Thunder with Kobe Bryant sitting out. Bryant played on Wednesday night in the rematch at Staples Center, but the Lakers fell behind early and were trounced in a 120-85 setback as 14-point underdogs. Los Angeles was held to 36% shooting from the floor, while Bryant shot just 7-of-22 from the floor for a team-high 19 points. Byron Scott’s team fell to 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS off a victory this season, failing to capitalize off Tuesday’s comeback win at Denver.

The Clippers have won seven straight meetings with the Lakers, including pulling off a four-game sweep last season. The Lakers managed to record a 2-2 ATS mark against the Clippers, as the Purple and Gold was listed as a double-digit underdog in all four games. Since 2004, the Lakers own a 3-8 SU and 6-5 ATS record on Christmas Day, although Bryant sat out last season’s Christmas blowout loss at Chicago.

Dinero notes that Bryant will be playing for the third time in four nights, which will be tough for the future Hall of Famer, “The Lakers can’t beat anyone if he’s ineffective because the rest of his team is either raw and young or old and marginal, so Bryant playing for a third time in four nights doesn’t inspire much confidence. To be fair, he did play well in a fourth-game-in-five-nights situation when L.A. won in Washington on Dec. 2, but that was an anomaly. In his third-in-four-nights situations, which he avoided all of November, the Lakers are 0-4, including losses to the 76ers and Timberwolves.”