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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Monday, May 7, 2018 at 12:00 PM

As I write this, none of the second round series in the 2018 NBA Playoffs have come to an end. But, it’s a virtual lock who the four advancing teams will be. Golden State and Houston will play for the Western crown. Both have 3-1 series leads, and were prohibitive favorites to survive their battles with New Orleans and Utah before they even started. Cleveland and Boston enjoy 3-0 series leads over Toronto and Philadelphia respectively, and no NBA team has ever rallied from 3-0 down to win a series.

That means, it’s fairly safe to start handicapping the final four. And, if Toronto or Philadelphia does stage a miraculous rally, you can just put them back where you had them in your initial power ratings. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that history will be made. It’s odd to have two pre-series favorites fall behind 3-0. History is full of inferior teams failing to rally.

What will the keys be to picking winners in Golden State/Houston and Cleveland/Boston? Your homework this week is to research these key factors.

*Three Pointers! Not only has this become the single most important stat in basketball handicapping (college and pro), but it’s very important to all four remaining teams. Golden State caught the league flat-footed by emphasizing treys a few years ago. Houston may be advancing the sport’s evolution further by emphasizing them even MORE (15 made treys per game for the Rockets this season). Cleveland has realized the best way to take advantage of LeBron James’ ability to attack the basket is to park shooters outside the arc he can kick the ball to if double-teamed. Boston has done the best job of “defending” three pointers this season, which is a big reason why Philadelphia has struggled so badly as favorites. The Sixers’ weaknesses became more obvious when treys weren’t falling.

Be sure you study average makes per game, long range percentages, and then those same stats from a defensive perspective before the series, and then on a game-by-game basis through Golden State/Houston and Cleveland/Boston.

*Free Throw Attempts! The Houston Rockets will probably need friendly officiating to get past Golden State. There’s already been some uproar about James Harden (and others) flopping so much against Utah. Do you know why they flop all the time? Because it works! The problem for Houston is, it’s easier to get calls from the refs when you’re the superior team than when you’re the inferior team in a series.

Because of LeBron, Cleveland will very likely win the free throw category vs. Boston. He attacks the basket (particularly when its time to win a game) in a way that forces opposing defenses to be aggressive. Nobody on Boston has the same ability (maybe nobody in history because Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant weren’t as physically imposing).

Be sure you study free throw makes and attempts through the playoffs for all four remaining teams, and then on a game-by-game basis through the matchups. I can assure you this stat will play a big role in determining who covers point spreads. It’s a reasonable guess right now to assume that three-pointers will determine who wins games straight up, and free throws will determine who covers point spreads.

*The market! Too many handicappers and bettors forget to study the market. They think it’s enough to focus on the teams. Then, it’s “see the line, bet the line.” Well, this season in particular, the market is REELING! Oddsmakers and professional bettors have been way out of synch with what was destined to happen in each series. I can show that to you this way.

Missing the Line by ??? Points

NO/Golden State: 15, 6, 23, 20

Utah/Houston: 2.5, 18.5, 16.5, 8

Philadelphia/Boston: 20.5, 8.5, 12.5

Cleveland/Boston: 8, 25, 2.5

Heaven help you if you were playing teasers! Only two have landed within five points of the number…the first game in Houston and the most recent game in Cleveland (where the Cavs blew a big fourth quarter lead). Eight of 14 have missed the final margin by double digits.

Please be sure you’re evaluating how “the market” is trying to adjust to all the surprises in front of them. You need to have a good sense of when the adjustments haven’t been enough…and when a line may have over-adjusted. Go back and study market sequences in each series. And, make it a point of emphasis moving forward.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping can’t tell you who he’ll be betting in the conference finals here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting. That wouldn’t be fair to paying customers. But, I’m happy to talk to you about process and strategy. I appreciate that so many of you enjoy these discussions and the coursework.

If you’d like some additional help finding basketball (and baseball) winners, KELSO STURGEON’S BEST BETS can be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling office at 1-888-777-4155 during normal business hours. I do have great rates for extended packages that go through the NBA Playoffs, the MLB all-star break, or the full baseball season.

Thanks so much for your attendance. I’ll be back again on Friday to talk baseball. We’ll follow that general schedule through the spring…pro basketball on Mondays, Major League Baseball on Fridays. Smart bettors are taking advantage of edges in both sports right now. See you later this week right here in this very same location.

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