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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, May 25, 2012 at 2:02 PM

The NBA’s Western Conference Championship round will begin Sunday Night when the Oklahoma City Thunder visit the San Antonio Spurs. The Eastern Conference Championship round starts the next night, when the winner of Saturday’s seventh game in the Philadelphia-Boston series travels to Miami.

As promised, I’m back to discuss Advanced Handicapping principals for these very challenging rounds of basketball analysis.

If you’re a basketball bettor, then you’ve watched a lot of action this year involving all four of the remaining teams. You know their strengths and weaknesses. Well, if you’re like most fans and bettors you’ve focused on their strengths and spent less time worrying about their weaknesses. If you want to pick winners from this point forward in the NBA postseason…you need to know a weakness when you see one, because championship contenders always try to attack an opponent’s weakest link.

Here are some tips for finding the weaknesses that are most likely to determine who wins and covers pointspreads over the next two weeks.

*Player by player, can each team defend against the opponents PLAYMAKERS AND GAMEBREAKERS? You know who the scoring stars are. I don’t need to waste a sentence telling you to find them. But, I DO NEED TO REMIND YOU to think about how opponents are going to stop them. Does San Antonio have enough inside to keep Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden from flying at the basket all night? Can Oklahoma City disrupt the intricate passing of the Spurs intelligent offense? Can Saturday Night’s winner fail to do what Indiana did…that is, put a roadblock in front of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade?

The nature of playoff basketball at its most intense involves offenses finding an opening they can exploit, then exploiting it to win the game. Defenses try to plug all the holes in the dike. Offenses try to punch new holes.

*Can each team maintain its energy and healthy through a grueling best of seven series? Health can be tough to predict of course. But, you should know by now that older teams are more prone to injuries than younger teams…and shorthanded teams are more prone to injuries than deep teams. You need to look at depth and projected pace to make a calculation about who can keep attacking with full intensity for the longest time. Some would argue Indiana ran out of gas in the second half of Game Five vs. Miami and never recovered. They used too much energy early in the series. Which Final Four squads are best suited for the physical challenges ahead? Note that everyone but Miami is assured of facing their toughest postseason challenges thus far.

*Who is going to own the battle of the boards? You often hear that defense and rebounding win championships. I’ve already talked about defense in terms of shutting down opposing stars. Rebounding often becomes the “tiebreaker” when both defenses are able to do that. Every defensive rebound is like a steal because it ends the other team’s possession. Every offensive rebound extends a possession and gives you another chance to score. Championships are won and lost within the minor differences in this category! I strongly advise you to review the regular season rebounding stats for the Final Four, and go game-by-game through boxscores from the first two rounds with an eye on that stat.

*To this point, we’re mostly reviewing fundamentals from earlier discussions. We’re always picking up new readers along the way…and I want to make sure that EVERYONE is focused on the right stuff. Here in my final point, I want you to think about which of the Final Four teams are “ready to win a championship,” and which “aren’t ready yet.”

This was a HUGE factor last year when the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose were too inexperienced to win the East…Oklahoma City and their young stars were too inexperienced to win the West…then Miami wasn’t ready to win the whole league because LeBron James didn’t fully understand what he had to do when everything was on the line. Dirk Nowitzki was ready to win a championship. Jason Kidd was ready to win a championship. It didn’t matter what the Vegas odds were (Dallas was not a well-respected team by the markets last year), the players on the floor either did or didn’t get the job done.

We know the “big three” of San Antonio can win championships. But, they’re older than they used to be. Will the role players who have been so vital during this recent hot stretch freeze up?

We know that Oklahoma City faded last year because of immaturity and impatience. Did they learn enough from that experience to get over the top this year?

We know that Miami got very close last year…seemingly having the whole thing wrapped up early in the Dallas series. Have they upgraded their role players enough to go the distance? Is LeBron ready to approach his destiny?

As I write this we don’t know who the fourth team is going to be. Boston obviously has the experience to win the East, but may not be healthy enough. I don’t see Philadelphia’s young, erratic team has having a chance in Hell to upset Miami even if they were to upset Boston. They might cover some tall spreads, but that roster isn’t suited to championship ball yet by a longshot.

If you’d like some help picking games through the rest of the NBA Playoffs, assistance is available right here at this website. Game day selections go up a few hours before tipoff for credit card purchase. You can also purchase the rest of the postseason at one time for a great rate.

I’ll be back Tuesday for another Advanced Handicapping discussion. We’ll probably talk about baseball in that feature because it will be too early to “read and react” to the first blows on the NBA hardwood. There’s a lot of ways to make money in sports right now, as May becomes June and the summer approaches (it’s already felt like summer for WEEKS here in Las Vegas!).

Thanks for being a regular student here at my College of Advanced Handicapping. I look forward to seeing you again next week.

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