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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, April 2, 2012 at 11:26 PM

We had originally planned on running a stat summary from Monday’s college game in the Tuesday edition of the NOTEBOOK. But, a quickly developing story in the NBA made us change plans. There are two very important games tonight in what’s becoming a dramatic and MESSED UP playoff picture in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.

Let’s start with the standings. The first two spots are set with Chicago and Miami. So, we’ll pick things up at the #3 spot on the totem pole.

3…Orlando: 32-21

4…Indiana 31-21

5…Boston: 30-22

6…Atlanta 31-23

7…Philadelphia 29-23

8…New York 27-26

9…Milwaukee 24-28

That’s an EXTREMELY tight race from spots 3-6 in the East…and Philadelphia isn’t far off the pace at all. New York is within striking distance of better seeds too, though they’re dealing with injuries at the moment. Milwaukee has a lot of work to do if they want to crash the party. You’ll see in a moment that it’s a party that’s potentially ripe for crashing.

Note that those are ordered by won-lost percentages. But, that’s not necessarily how the playoffs are going to work! The winner of the Atlantic Division is guaranteed no worse than a #4 seed no matter what their record is. Boston is technically a #4 seed right now, even with the fifth best record. And, it’s possible given the difficulty of their upcoming schedule…and the vulnerabilities of the teams below them, that the Atlantic Division could send three teams to the playoffs with the 6th, 7th, and 8th best records!

Let’s focus in on just the Atlantic Division for a moment:

Boston: 30-22

Philadelphia 29-23

New York 27-26

Boston has a one game lead over Philadelphia, and a 3.5 game lead over New York. Given New York’s solid defensive play under Mike Woodson, there is still a chance for the Knicks to rise up and take the division…which would give them a #4 seed!

With those standings in mind, let’s look at this week’s schedule for those three teams:

 

Tuesday:

New York at Indiana

Philadelphia at Miami

 

Wednesday:

San Antonio at Boston

Toronto at Philadelphia

(Note that Milwaukee plays Cleveland)

 

Thursday:

New York at Orlando

Boston at Chicago

 

Friday:

Boston at Indiana

Orlando at Philadelphia

(Note that Milwaukee plays Charlotte Friday, and Portland Saturday)

 

Sunday:

Chicago at New York

Philadelphia at Boston

Wow…what a week! This is why there’s a sense of urgency about getting this on your radar NOW. The two games Tuesday Night are crucial…and this whole week presents very tough challenges for the Atlantic Division teams while giving Milwaukee a relatively easy run of it.

In other words:

*Boston is in danger of hitting a wall this week after a 15-5 start to the second half of the season. They’re dealing with San Antonio, Chicago, Indiana, and Philadelphia in a tight five-day window. Poor results there, and they’ll fall from their pedestal in the division…and could conceivably fall back in danger of missing the playoffs entirely.

*Philadelphia also has a tough 4-in-5 stretch, but at least one of the games is against Toronto. We’re going to get a very good sense this week of how Boston and Philly may fare in the postseason because they’re playing so many playoff teams in such short order.

*Normally, this would look like a window of opportunity for the Knicks to get back in the Atlantic Division race. But, they don’t have any gift games on the schedule. The good news is that there are no back-to-backs in that Indiana-Orlando-Chicago sequence. There’s a chance for this defensive minded team to possibly grind out a win or two.

*Milwaukee has three gift games! This is the week it’s going to happen for the Bucks if it’s going to happen. They’d better go 3-0 vs. Cleveland, Charlotte, and Portland. If they get some help, they’re right back in the playoff race. In fact, it only takes one collapse above them to be a factor again. Even Philadelphia, seemingly a playoff lock all season, could be in trouble with the right set of circumstances.

Don’t make the mistake of taking a handicapping break between the end of March Madness and the start of the NBA playoffs. These last few weeks of regular season action are going to be packed with great money-making opportunities as long as you stay on top of developments.

*Try to see who’s playing with intensity because they want to make the playoffs. Back those teams when rested, but be careful with them in fatigue spots.

*Keep an eye out for any team that starts go get discouraged. That could happen to Milwaukee if the teams in front of them keep winning. But, some would argue that even Philadelphia has had a “down in the dumps” look about them in recent weeks. Emotion and drive mean everything at this critical juncture of the season.

*Study the coaches to see if you can get a sense of when they’re prioritizing a game, and when they’re allowing a “night off” because everyone’s so tired. There’s room to do this if you have a little cushion between you and the #9 seed. Maybe Boston goes hard twice this week and accepts losses in the other two games. The key elements of the current Boston attack have been together forever, so WE have a very good idea of how they’re going to address this challenge. Do you?

*Don’t lose site of the Western Division. We’ll talk more about that group in the very near future. Things are just as messy over there as they are over here in the East. And, there are definitely some volatile personalities in play. You’d want to take some time off when pro basketball is THIS interesting?!

It’s a great week for handicapping…and it’s a great week for watching yourself win on TV whether you’re talking about the ESPN and TNT schedules or the League Pass program that many of you purchased. JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK is certainly fired up for this week and the home stretch. You can purchase BIG JUICY WINNERS each and every day right here at the website. Or, lock yourself in for the rest of the season by calling 1-800-323-4453.

Oh, be sure to ask about baseball when you call. The Major League season gets under way on the mainland Wednesday with St. Louis at Miami (yes, the Florida Marlins are now the “Miami Marlins”). Everyone else gets swinging Thursday and Friday. NETWORK will hit the ground running this week in the bases. Make sure you take care of business EARLY each day because so many “Opening Day” spots are in the afternoon. This creates very valuable “split sessions” where smart wagerers can win baseball during the day, then invest those winnings in basketball at night.

We’ll be devoting all of our time in the NOTEBOOK now to the NBA and MLB for the Spring and Summer. Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s REALLY HAPPENING! We can’t believe all the nonsense we’ve read about pro hoops in the mainstream media in recent weeks. Sportswriters don’t know how to evaluate trades. They don’t know how to evaluate injuries. They don’t know tanking when it’s right in front of their eyes. They think any good team that gives themselves a night off to rest up is somehow lacking in character. This is why sportswriters wouldn’t last a week betting their own opinions in Las Vegas.

We hope you found MARCH MADNESS fun and profitable. April showers will make it rain cash when you sign up with JIM HURLEY

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