by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Christmas Day is mostly quiet in the world of football this year...there will be a meaningless but legally bettable NFL game in the evening when Dallas visits Arizona (see our NFL Previews from Thursday's edition of the NOTEBOOK for stat notes). Sports fans craving thrills and action during the day will be focused on the NBA, where ABC and ESPN have a quintuple-header featuring big name stars and high profile teams.

We've put together stat briefs for you in a format similar to those we use in the NBA playoffs. This should be a great way to get caught up on the 10 teams under the spotlight today. If you're a do-it-yourself handicapper, our numbers will give you food for thought too.

If you're NOT a do-it-yourself handicapper, and you'd like BIG CHRISTMAS WINNERS, you can purchase JIM HURLEY'S Saturday selections right here at the website with your credit card.

Let's take the games in schedule order. We've gathrered up the league rankings for everyone in offensive and defensive efficiency, which represents points scored and allowed per possession. That's much better than scoring averages because efficiency adjusts for pace. We also grabbed rebound rate so you know how the best and worst rebounding teams are on the card today.

CHICAGO (18-9) at NEW YORK (17-12)
Chicago: 16th offense, 3rd defense, 1st rebounding
New York: 6th offense, 20th defense, 23rd rebounding
ATS Records: Team 17-9-1, New York 19-9-1
Notebook: Both of these teams have good records, but we're more impressed with Chicago in terms of playoff potential. You regulars can probably guess why. Defense and rebounding win championships. Chicago, having brought in a great fundamentals head coach, are third in the league in defense and first in rebounding. That may take a hit over the next several weeks with the absence of Joakim Noah. But, this is a team that's doing it the right way...and will be a threat to give a scare to Miami, Boston, or Orlando in the Eastern brackets.

New York may not be built for the playoffs, but they're doing a great job of beating up on bad teams. That is certainly worth something, as you can see with the 19-9-1 record against the Vegas line. Oddsmakers have been very slow to acknowledge the real improvement here. The Knicks have been money on the road vs. pretty much anyone, and do have the ability to run away and hide from bad teams thanks to Amare Stoudemire's excellence in the paint.

The winner and moneymaker today will probably come down to the style of game. If Chicago shows up and makes it a playoff atmosphere...then the Bulls will have an edge. But, many teams often no-show on the holidays because they're mad they can't be with their families. A half-hearted effort from the Bulls puts New York in position to run away and hide. Information will mean everything here. Thank goodness JIM HURLEY'S New York sources are the best in the business!

BOSTON (23-4) at ORLANDO (17-12)
Boston: 8th offense, 1st defense, 9th rebounding
Orlando: 14th offense, 5th defense, 2nd rebounding
ATS Records: Boston 15-11-1, Orlando 10-19
Notebook: No surprise these two have been such a force in the playoffs in recent years. You see strength in defense and rebounding...with one currently leading the league at stopping people and the other second in the league at grabbing misses.

We're very interested to see how Orlando progresses after their recent trades. The first two games with Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas were very ugly, with those two guys in particularly having bad shooting nights. Thursday's blowout of San Antonio was much more of what the franchise and fans were hoping for after pulling the trigger on the transactions. The ATS record above shows you why Orlando made those trades. They were playing WAY below expectations and something had to be done.

We have respect for how Boston rises to the occasion to send messages. We're not the biggest fans of Arenas and Turkoglu, but we understand how new blood can bring new energy. As we're writing this, we're thinking about Boston and the Under. You'll have to sign up to see if this game made the final cut.

MIAMI (22-9) at LA LAKERS (21-8)
Miami: 3rd offense, 2nd defense, 5th rebounding
Lakers: 4th offense, 11th defense, 6th rebounding
ATS Records: Miami 15-16, Lakers 14-15
Notebook: It's very important that you note the stat rankings here. We're talking about championship caliber teams. That's why ABC scheduled the game for a showcase telecast. Maybe they'll finally spend some time talking about the great DEFENSE and REBOUNDING with these teams!

Miami snapped out of its recent coma by emphasizing the fundamentals. It wasn't about chemistry, or selfishness, or hating the coach. It was about focusing on what matters most and getting the job done. The Lakers have actually slacked off a bit defensively this year, probably pacing themselves for the long haul. You longtime readers know how much we've talked about LA's defense in the past. They don't play at a slow pace, and too many people think Pau Gasol is soft in the middle. This team guards, and gets stops.

What's going to happen today? Both teams are downplaying the game. That way, it won't seem like the end of the world if they lose! Both squads no the playoffs are everything, and this is basically a show for TV. They still want to win though. We may sneak in an Under play because of the high caliber defense, and the fact that this could have a playoff atmosphere that leads to possession-by-possession basketball.

DENVER (16-11) at OKLAHOMA CITY (20-10)
Denver: 5th offense, 22nd defense, 21st rebounding
OK City: 9th offense, 17th defense, 14th rebounding
ATS Records: Denver 9-16-2, OK City 15-15
Notebook: We step out of the championship contenders now, and move on to star players the league wanted to showcase. It's a shame Carmelo Anthony of Denver is dealing with a family sadness over the holidays. Kevin Durant will surely provide the star power in front of an enthusiastic crowd that will be happy for the TV exposure.

Neither of these teams is a legitimate threat to the league powers in our view. You can see that Denver ranks in the 20's in both defense and rebounding. Lotsa luck beating the Lakers, San Antonio, or Dallas that way. Oklahoma City lost much of their defensive intensity when their assistant coach in charge of defense went to Chicago (and you see what happened to Chicago!). The Thunder were a great story last year. But, they were a great story because they were playing championship style basketball at a very young age. That's disappeared.

PORTLAND (15-14) at GOLDEN STATE (10-18)
Portland: 15th offense, 14th defense, 16th rebounding
Golden State: 17th offense, 27th defense, 15th rebounding
ATS Records: Portland 14-13-2, Golden State 13-14-1
Notebook: Portland's been struggling through Brandon Roy's injury woes. They're about as 'average' as it gets...with a 15-14 record and rankings in the 14-16 range in a 30-team league. Golden State has had some injury woes of their own. But, this is a team that doesn't play great defense even when healthy. The coaching change hasn't fixed that...and that was what needed fixing the most. There are situations where you can back either team...but you really have to pick your spots in Vegas with either side. We probably won't get involved here unless we hear something great from our West Coast sources.

That wraps up our stat previews for Christmas Day basketball. We hope you're having a wonderful time with friends and family. Don't forget that our selections can be purchased online with your credit card. We'll be back in the office Sunday morning for a huge NFL day at 1-800-323-4453. An incredibly busy week of college bowl action will follow that. We'll have you covered from pillar to post here in the NOTEBOOK in every major sport.

Once again...MERRY CHRISTMAS from everyone here at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by and For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.


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