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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, May 18, 2015 at 1:00 PM

Even though the prominent seeds in both the Eastern and Western Conferences of the NBA had to sweat some second round challenges…all the #1’s and #2’s have survived to play in the Final Four that begins Tuesday Night.

#2 Houston faces #1 Golden State (beginning Tuesday Night)

#2 Cleveland faces #1 Atlanta (beginning Wednesday Night)

Amazingly, all four of those teams trailed 2-1 in their prior series. It’s a miracle that Houston is still around after facing a 99% elimination prospect late in the third quarter of Game Six vs. the LA Clippers. Golden State is really the only series favorite that flat out IMPRESSED late in the prior round. How Cleveland and Atlanta finished 3-0 doesn’t compare to how Golden State did it when you factor in victory margins and the caliber of the opponent.

*Atlanta never did find its shooting form, but kept Washington from scoring enough to win in Games Five and Six. Atlanta still hasn’t come anywhere near its great regular season level of performance in the playoffs (against fairly generic Eastern Conference opposition).

*Cleveland just kept grinding until Chicago threw in the towel and called it a season. Blue collar victory for a bunch of hard workers. It’s much easier to respect Cleveland right now than it is to see them as a serious threat to the Warriors.

Last week I talked about living by the trey, and dying by the missed trey. Golden State started making their bombs again (14 of 33, 14 of 30, and 15 of 32). Frankly, nobody’s going to beat them when they’re shooting like that because the Warriors defense is also terrific. Game, set, and match right there when the Warriors are making more than a dozen treys in a game. On the other hand, Atlanta still hasn’t gotten Kyle Korver back on track. And, Houston’s return from the grave was more about the LA Clippers choking, and then being too exhausted to recover.

What does all of this mean for the Conference Finals? Here are the keys to handicapping the Eastern and Western Championships in my view:

*Who has the most FIREPOWER (meaning, PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS)?

*Who has the most depth (shorthanded teams wear down in wars)?

*Who has the superior defense?

*Who has the superior rebounding?

*Who “knows” what to do late in close games?

Let’s talk about that last point for a second. You regular students here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping know all about those first few fundamental categories. Now that we’re deep into the playoffs…with SO MUCH on the line in every game, it’s important to think about late-game composure.

*CLEVELAND is led by LeBron James, who loves late game pressure. He angers some in the media because he’s just as likely to pass to an open teammate as he is to shoot. But, that’s how you win playoff games! As banged up as this team is…they will always have a chance in nailbiters because of James’ experience and leadership.

*ATLANTA survived Washington’s apparent superiority in the clutch. Paul Pierce wanted to take the last shot for the Wizards. A half-second difference on the game clock in Game Six...and we might be looking at a Monday night Game Seven in that series. Credit to the Hawks for advancing…but I can’t say I was impressed with the offense or the coach in crunch time. If they’re going to beat Cleveland, they’ll need to do it with comfortable victories keyed by great three-point shooting.

*GOLDEN STATE is still untested in these waters. They managed to completely avoid late-game drama in the entire Memphis series! Their losses were by 7 and 10 points. Their victories were by 15, 17, 20, and 13 points. Not a single nailbiter ending. I know the markets see the Warriors as prohibitive favorites over the Rockets. There’s a chance things get interesting if the Rockets can make Golden State sweat some late game drama.

*HOUSTON at least has some crunch time hopes because James Harden wants the ball in his hands in the final minutes of close games. That challenges defenses to stop him, NOT foul him, and cut off passing lanes to open three-point shooters. Compare that to Atlanta who really has no idea what to do yet late in close games. Houston has a plan of attack, and a legitimate chance to get points on the board.

Something for you to think about as you map out your plans. I’m not going to get any more specific because I have to protect my personal opinions for my clients. I can tell you that there are some big plays coming up on the immediate horizon if these series and the market pricing go as expected.

If you’d like to join me in the winner’s circle, you can purchase my personal NBA Playoff selections (and baseball) right here at this very website. Questions about extended service can be answered personally by one of my representatives in the Vegas-Sports-Masters office at 1-888-777-4155. Call during normal business hours Monday through Friday.

Thanks once again for your attendance and devotion to the course work. Be sure you know these teams from head to toe in terms of PLAYMAKERS, depth, defense, rebounding, and crunch time ability. Then, study the boxscores game by game to see how your assessments are playing out. I’ll be back again later this week with a special baseball report. You’ll be transitioning from multi-sport seasonal handicapping to just baseball in the very near future (until football returns this fall). Our coursework will adjust to that reality. See you next time.  


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Kelso Sturgeon on twitter @vsm_sturgeon

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