We usually brace for a heavy schedule on Friday nights, but the NBA clearly took it easy on the league and their families. The new year will do that to you, but we still have five fun pro basketball games to look at and maybe even bet on before the action gets going tonight.
We know early on that Kobe Bryant is out and a few other injuries may end up impacting how we look at some of the matchups. Let’s take a quick look at each one and see where you may want to lean with your bets on the first day of 2016:
Orlando Magic @ Washington Wizards
Orlando heads to D.C. to take on John Wall and the Wizards, who remain without Brad Beal and will look to put an end to a two-game slide. The Wiz won a tight game very early in the year at the Amway Center and later were able to win again in more convincing fashion at home. The Magic have been cooking with gas lately (won 7 of last 10), and even on the road will badly want to take down the Wiz to avoid an 0-3 hole. Washington’s mediocre home record could play a helping hand.
Pick: Magic 104, Wizards 101
New York Knicks @ Chicago Bulls
Carmelo Anthony, Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol carry some serious star power into this somewhat hyped Eastern Conference showdown, as the Knicks enter the United Center to wage war with the Bulls. Chicago has been the far better team to this point, but they would be wise not to forget a blowout loss to the Knicks in New York earlier this year. While the Knicks won that one, Chicago is far more talented and is a staggering 13-5 on their home floor.
Pick: Bulls 102, Knicks 97
Dallas Mavericks @ Miami Heat
Opposites clash in this meeting in South Beach, as Dallas likes to push the pace a bit and the Heat are one of the slowest, defensive-minded teams in all of basketball. Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade will probably get theirs, but this one might be decided down in the trenches with Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside working on Zaza Pachulia. Normally the Heat would feel like the pick at home, where they’re typically at their best, but Dallas is white hot with four straight wins.
Pick: Mavs 105, Heat 99
Charlotte Hornets @ Toronto Raptors
The story is the same here, as Charlotte looks to score and Toronto keeps things relatively slow. That could keep the scoring a little low in this one, but a hard-fought contest is still to be expected. The real difference should be that Toronto is getting healthy at the exact right time and the Hornets appear to be breaking down. Without Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson and possibly even Nicolas Batum, the Hornets don’t look prepared to take the Raptors down on the road.
Pick: Raptors 101, Hornets 98
Philadelphia 76ers @ Los Angeles Lakers
This is the toss-up game of the night, as the Lakers play host to the worst team in the league. A few odd tidbits, though: Kobe is out, the Lakers also are bad and Philly even beat the Lakers for their first win of the year earlier this season. That, and the arrival of point guard Ish Smith has vaulted the Sixers into a suddenly competitive team and they’ll enter Staples Center looking for two straight wins.
Pick: 76ers 106, Lakers 102