Fantasy Basketball: Christmas Day NBA slate breakdown and lineup advice

By Alex Barutha, RotoWire

Special to Yahoo Sports

There's no shortage of star power for the NBA's Christmas slate, featuring many of the league's MVP candidates. The five-pack of games starts early with a noon ET tipoff between the 76ers and Knicks and is bookended with a 10:30 PM ET matchup between the Suns and Nuggets. Sandwiched between those games are Lakers at Mavericks, Bucks at Celtics and Grizzlies at Warriors. Let's dive into each matchup.

(All betting odds courtesy of BetMGM)

76ers (18-12) at Knicks (18-14)

Spread: 76ers -2.5

Philly is riding high on a six-game winning streak, while the Knicks just had an eight-game winning streak snapped by the Raptors, featuring a career-high 52 points from Pascal Siakam.

Still, these are two of the hottest teams in the league.

Both squads have stronger defenses than offenses. Combined with the early start time of this game, it wouldn't be surprising to see a low-scoring affair with plenty of rebounds.

Joel Embiid (+1100 for MVP) is playing at a historic level since returning from a foot injury. Over the past 10 games, he's averaged 32.9 points, 9.7 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks. Fantasy managers should beware of Mitchell Robinson's tendency to get in foul trouble, which could come into play while guarding Embiid. James Harden's return from injury has been more of a mixed bag — 20.7 points on modest 43/38/79 shooting splits, and his 5.0 turnovers dampen his 10.7 assists.

The Knicks' "Mid 3" of Julius Randle, Jalen Brunson and RJ Barrett continue to chug along, but guys like Mitchell Robinson, Quentin Grimes and Immanuel Quickley have led the defensive charge. Grimes' status for Christmas is unclear after he sat out Wednesday due to an ankle sprain; he's been deemed questionable for Friday's game against the Bulls. Quickley saw a boosted 35 minutes in Grimes' absence, posting 20-plus points for a second straight game.

Lakers (13-18) at Mavericks (16-16)

Spread: Mavericks -7.5

Just when the Lakers were starting to put things together, Anthony Davis suffered a foot injury that will likely keep him out for at least a month. The Mavericks are dealing with their own injuries, though not to the very top of the roster. Both teams are under .500 in the past two weeks.

Still, we're at least given a Christmas present with both LeBron James and Luka Doncic (+450 for MVP) healthy. The matchup continues to feel like a proverbial torch passing, even if it seems like LeBron may never actually hang up his jersey. The two have faced off eight times — LeBron winning six and clearly stepping up his game with averages of 27.1 points on 53/41/76 shooting, 9.0 rebounds, 8.6 assists to 3.8 turnovers and 2.0 steals. Doncic hasn't held up as well, averaging 21.8 points on 41/28/77 shooting, 7.9 assists to 4.9 turnovers, 7.4 rebounds and 1.3 steals.

Davis' injury has thrust Thomas Bryant into a starting role for Los Angeles. He's played well and gives LA a fresh dynamic with quality three-point shooting, helping to space the floor for his wealth of teammates who prefer to drive. Dallas' center rotation is relatively weak, so Bryant may be someone to target in fantasy.

Russell Westbrook and Austin Reaves have missed the past two games. Westbrook will almost certainly be available, while Reaves is questionable for Friday's game, leaving his status for Christmas unclear.

Dallas' injury situation isn't full of players with name recognition, but it's a shallow squad that needs every bit of its rotation. Maxi Kleber is out for months with a torn hamstring, while Dorian Finney-Smith and Josh Green are out Friday with the possibility of missing Christmas. Kemba Walker — who is playing an alarming amount of minutes right out of the gate — is out Friday for rest but should be back Sunday. Fantasy managers in daily formats should keep an eye on the injury report since plenty of value could open up. On Wednesday, Spencer Dinwiddie saw 41 minutes, while Doncic, Tim Hardaway and Reggie Bullock all saw 35-plus.

Bucks (22-9) at Celtics (22-10)

Spread: Celtics -4.5

Both of these teams have underwhelmed lately. The Bucks are a modest 4-3 over the past two weeks, but the Celtics have a troubling 1-5 record over the same stretch, including two losses to Orlando.

Still, Milwaukee vs. Boston has become one of the more heated rivalries in the NBA and is the expected Eastern Conference Finals preview. Both teams' MVP candidates are expected to be available, which could make this the most compelling matchup of Christmas Day. The pair have faced off a combined 34 times in the regular season and playoffs, with Giannis Antetokounmpo (+250 for MVP) having just a two-win advantage over Jayson Tatum (+275 for MVP).

Antetokounmpo is coming off back-to-back monster games against the Pelicans and Cavaliers, totaling 87 points, 24 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and a steal. Milwaukee may be without Khris Middleton, however. He's doubtful for Friday's game against the Nets. MarJon Beauchamp has started in his place over the past two games, but Brook Lopez — the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year at +150 — sees the biggest bump in fantasy production with Middleton sidelined.

Tatum has also been on a tear lately, averaging 38.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.3 steals across his past three appearances. Robert Williams has played three games since recovering from knee surgery and has looked good in limited action.

Be on the lookout for Marcus Smart's status. He's questionable for Friday's game against the Timberwolves.

Grizzlies (19-11) at Warriors (15-18)

Spread: Grizzlies -4.5

Despite dealing with significant injuries all season, Memphis is tied for first in the West with Denver. They've lost the past two games but were on a seven-game winning streak before that, and they have a handful of massive blowout wins on their resume. The Warriors don't look like a functional basketball team without Steph Curry. However, things were flawed even before that, with Golden State being outscored by 87 points over the past six games.

Ja Morant remains must-see TV and should be the favorite for pulling off the next dunk of the century. He's averaging 27 points and 7.8 assists. Before injuring his shoulder, Curry was absolutely carrying the Warriors with 30 points and 6.8 assists on 50/43/92 shooting.

We got some surprising news out of Memphis: Desmond Bane may be able to return Friday after being out since Nov. 13 with a sprained toe. Whether or not he plays Friday, there is a good chance he'll be available on Christmas. That would mark the first time all season that the Grizzlies can put their proper starting five on the floor. Jaren Jackson's production fluctuates based on foul trouble, but he's averaging an impressive 3.2 blocks and 1.0 steals since returning in mid-November. He's second in Defensive Player of the Year odds (+250) behind Brook Lopez.

As far as the Warriors go ... it's just a mess. In addition to Curry being out, Andrew Wiggins is still sidelined, and Donte DiVincenzo — Curry's de facto replacement — has been out with an illness. His status is unclear for Christmas. On a positive note, James Wiseman had the best game of his career, though it was during the absurd 143-113 blowout loss to Brooklyn.

Who should we rely on in fantasy? How many competitive games will this team play while Curry is out? Jordan Poole is the safest option as a dynamic ball-handler and scorer, but defenses will be entirely clued in on him. He's 12-for-35 with 11 turnovers and three assists in the past two games.

Suns (19-13) at Nuggets (19-11)

Spread: Nuggets -3.5

Denver is tied for first in the Western Conference with Memphis. The Nuggets are 5-1 over the past six games, and they have the second-best offense in the NBA on the season. The Suns have struggled lately, losing six of their past nine games, but injuries have played a part. They have the third-best offense in the NBA this year.

Back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic is +650 to three-peat. During this six-game stretch, he's averaged an unreal 30.8 points on 59/35/77 shooting, 14.5 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 blocks. For the Suns, Devin Booker is having his best season, though he may not play on Christmas. He's missing a third straight game Friday due to a groin injury.

Denver is getting some positive injury-related news, as Michael Porter Jr. says he'll play Friday after being out since Nov. 23 due to a heel injury. He's hitting 2.9 threes per game at 42.7 percent. Fantasy managers relying on Bruce Brown should wait and see what happens, but his 12-team league viability could wane with Porter's return.

If Booker remains out on Christmas, we should continue to see elevated roles for Landry Shamet and Torrey Craig. Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton will take on more responsibilities as well. CP3 has looked great over the past five games, averaging 17.8 points, 9.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals.