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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Friday, May 18, 2012 at 2:05 PM

I told you before the playoffs started that I hoped to have a running dialogue with you on these pages that would allow us to see Advanced Handicapping happening in “real time.” There’s no better example of what I was talking about than what’s happening RIGHT NOW in the NBA.

FOUR teams, one in each series, are dealing with absolute gut checks the next time they take the floor. The Power Ratings don’t matter. The stats don’t matter. Trends and systems may provide some guidance if you’re studying other similar gut check situations in the past…but even those may be lacking because of the unique personalities involved.

It’s not just that a team is trailing 2-0 and needs to play well. KOBE BRYANT is trailing 2-0 and is dealing for the first time ever with the downward phase of his career. It’s not just that a team is trailing 2-1 knowing they must win on the road to even things up. DWYANE WADE is coming off the worst professional game of his career in a way that’s making everyone wonder if the LeBron James-Dwyane Wade marriage is due for a messy divorce.

We saw messy last year when the Los Angeles Lakers fell apart against the Dallas Mavericks. Are the Lakers about to endure another replay of that? James and Wade also saw their seasons end at the hand of the Mavericks, and also came under fire for how poorly they played with a title on the line. The Power Ratings didn’t matter…as Dallas was supposedly worse than both of those teams in most respected rankings. The stats didn’t matter either. Dallas just kept doing what they were capable of doing on offense, while finding ways to make adjustments on defense that forced their opponents to play well below their statistical norms.

Here are the gut check questions Advanced Handicappers have to answer if they want to pick winners Friday through Sunday:

*Can Philadelphia bounce back from the painful spanking they took at the hands of Boston in Game Three. If the Sixers lose again at home, the series is all but over. This is a young team without a clear offensive leader. Will they throw in the towel at the first real sign of trouble they’ve endured since watching Derrick Rose get hurt in their first game? Or, will that youthful energy bring about a bounce back that evens up the series?

*Can the LA Lakers recover from the punch to the solar plexus they felt after blowing a 7-point lead in the last two minutes of Game Two in Oklahoma City. This is a group that DIDN’T respond well when Dallas embarrassed them last year. Friday Night’s game is near pick-em. The Lakers’ intangibles will probably lead to a game that misses that spread by at least 5-10 points in one direction or the other.

*Can the banged up and tired LA Clippers get off the mat after their poor start against the San Antonio Spurs. Losing the first two games wasn’t a surprise given the situation. But, it’s now or never in terms of making this a series. Does the team think it’s hopeless because Chris Paul and Blake Griffin aren’t able to impose their will? Or, is the team about to shock the world with a big effort?

*Can Miami and Dwyane Wade patch up the deep divide that became evident during Thursday’s Game Three? That wasn’t a guy having a bad game. That was a guy having a meltdown at the worst possible time. It will fade from memory soon enough if the Heat get back on track. It will be something that’s talked about for years if the Heat keep stumbling.

Many of the key factors I talked about before the playoffs will still matter this weekend. Rebounding is still important. Defending playmakers and gamebreakers will still determine outcomes. But, now…in these fascinating circumstances…those become the backdrop. The series leaders will win rebounding easily and shut down opposing offenses if the series trailers have lost their spirit. The signs that teams in trouble still have their spirit will show up in those vital fundamentals of Advanced Handicapping. To beat this sport now, you must bring everything you know about tangibles and intangibles into play.

I’ve certainly done that with Friday night’s 50-Unit Showdown play. I swept the board Thursday with Indiana (+) over Miami and San Antonio (-) over the Clippers. Now, one of my biggest releases of the postseason is on tap for Friday. That will help my clients and I build bankroll for the big weekend ahead. If you’re having trouble getting a feel for the playoffs this year, my top nightly plays are always just a few clicks away.

I’ll be back again Tuesday to talk more about Advanced Handicapping principals in either the NBA or MLB. I’ll let this weekend’s storylines play out before deciding which sport to focus on. I had originally planned to talk about the back-to-back’s in the West in this report. That issue took a back seat to the gut check realities very quickly. Handicappers must read and react!

Thanks again for your continuing attendance at my free College of Advanced Handicapping. Please tell your friends or print out our course discussions and give them copies. If you’re having smarter discussions with your friends about sports, you’ll ALL do a better job with your selections.

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