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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, April 25, 2018 at 10:00 AM

KEY TO ADVANCING IN NBA PLAYOFFS: CAN YOU STOP WHAT THE OTHER GUY DOES WELL?

Early in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, it's clear that the fundamentals still hold true. Yes, three-point shooting is more important than ever. And, defensive rotations are evolving to stop more aggressive ball movement strategies on offense. But, the most basic fundamental is still ruling these opening round matchups.

Can you stop what the other guy does well?

Handicappers who focus on THAT will pick more winners than losers. Bettors who get distracted by other issues may run into some trouble. Here are some on-the-fly examples.

*Portland could not. Even though the Trailblazers were a #3 seed with home court advantage (for 48 minutes anyway) facing the #6 seed New Orleans Pelicans, they got SWEPT because they had no answer for Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, New Orleans had a few defensive answers for Damian Lillard. It never even felt like a series. Which is a surprise when the underdog advances. None of the stats or trends in the world mattered when both issues became clear. Zig zag theory? Pelicans never heard of it!

*San Antonio and Miami could not. We saw both of those teams eliminated in 4-1 series losses Tuesday night. Each was outmatched by Golden State and Philadelphia respectively. Each defense could only hope for the best against the opposing offensive threats. Each offense lacked firepower, San Antonio mostly because Kawhi Leonard took a year off.

*Utah has been one of the pleasant surprises of the postseason, though it hasn't eliminated Oklahoma City just yet (3-1 heading into Wednesday night's Game Four at OKC). The Jazz have an elite defense, and have pushed all of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George out of their comfort zones. OKC needed to shoot lights out from long range to get its one win. The Thunder offense looks like it's falling apart before our very eyes. And, that's caused OKC's defense to lose intensity and give up hope as well.

*The series that are 2-2 or 3-2 entering Wednesday...Indiana/Cleveland, Washington/Toronto, and Boston/Milwaukee, have all seen a relative cancelling out of weaponry. Pre-series favorites are still expected to win based on in-series pricing because the stars should still carry the day. But, the defenses of Cleveland and Toronto in particular have been disappointing when it comes time to win a game. Boston has been a big disappointment defensively vs. the Bucks compared to its regular season ranking, though did perform better in that regard in Tuesday night's victory.

All of this has led to fairly simple handicapping if you can recognize the team with a matchup advantage:

*New Orleans went 4-0 ATS vs. Portland
*Golden State went 3-2 ATS vs. San Antonio
*Philadelphia went 3-1-1 ATS vs. Miami
*Utah is 3-1 ATS vs. OKC so far

It's obviously very tough to know in advance where all the edges are going to be. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK is better than anybody at it. But, we're not going to tell you we're 13-4 ATS in the playoffs in those matchups. The important thing is to recognize an edge as or after it's been established. Try to anticipate. Try to recognize it. Exploit it before the line catches up.

Has the line caught up to Philadelphia yet? Possibly. The Sixers were getting expensive late in the Miami series, and are now very clearly on the radar with other Eastern powers playing sluggishly. Who's going to be able to stop the inside/outside threats of the Sixers now that Joel Embiid is back on the floor playing well? We'll say it this way. The market has trouble anticipating "peak" Sixers when it's about to happen.

Has the line caught up to New Orleans yet? Only Game Four was even close to the number vs. Portland. We'll have to see how oddsmakers and professional bettors treat the Pelicans in their second-round series with Golden State. The Warriors better lift their game after the last two non-covers vs. the Spurs. Remember to focus on whether or not Golden State can stop Anthony Davis. That's likely the key to a market edge.

Has the line caught up to Utah yet? We'll see about that. The first answer is set for Wednesday night at OKC. Should we go to a sixth game in Utah, let's see where the market puts THAT number after the Jazz won by 13 and 17 earlier in the series. The good news for opponents is that Utah's offense can at least be contained. And, this stellar Utah defense has a chance to make life difficult for the Houston Rockets in the next round.

JIM HURLEY is already looking forward to the second round, but has plenty of work left as the first round comes to a close. You can purchase our daily BEST BETS right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about long term or combination packages, please call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-800-323-4453. You get the most bang for your buck on those expanded value-priced packages that include both the NBA and Major League Baseball

Back with you next week to talk more handicapping here in the NOTEBOOK. If you do the work...or call the company with a 30-year proven track record...you'll be rewarded with BIG JUICY WINNERS!

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