Recapping the First Week of Action from the 2018 World Series of Poker WSOP

With the first seven days of the 2018 World Series of Poker now in the books, seven players have claimed the most prestigious prize in the game – a gold WSOP bracelet.

And like always, the WSOP has awarded bracelets to players of all caliber, from a former Main Event World Champion to a local poker dealer who parlayed his one time into a life-changing score.

To keep you up to date on all of the final tables and bracelet wins from the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas – home of the WSOP – check out the tournament capsules below for a full rundown of results. You’ll find winner’s info, the final table finishing order, prizes paid, superstars in the mix, and the most enduring storylines from the events that have concluded thus far.

Event #1: $565 Casino Employees No Limit Holdem (May 30 – June 1)
Winner: Jordan Hufty
Prize: $61,109
Field: 566 entries

The opening event at every WSOP is a special tournament open only to casino employees.

This extends far beyond the Rio’s walls though, so anybody who is gainfully employed within the wider gaming industry is eligible to enter the Casino Employees event.

That was good news for Jordan Hufty, a Las Vegas local who works as a poker dealer and floorman at the Aria – a casino resort located on the nearby Strip. Before firing the $565 buy-in needed to secure a stack, Hufty had recorded just two live tournament cashes ever – good for just over $1,900 in total.

Two days after taking his seat, however, and Hufty had increased his bankroll by leaps and bounds. Following two days of play, Hufty claimed the last chip in play, emerging from a field of 566 entries to win his first WSOP gold bracelet.

Having begun Day 1 with 5,000 chips to work with, Hufty managed to build his stack up to 399,000 by day’s end. He received about 150,000 of those bullets near the very end of the night, eliminating the 15th and 14th place players from the field in two straight hands.

With that, the final 13 were set, and Hufty held a second-place chip stack entering the last day of play. The only player with more chips in their arsenal at that point was Jodie Sanders, which was only fitting, as Hufty and Sanders wound up facing off heads-up for the bracelet.

When that duel began, Hufty held 1.83 million chips to Sanders’ 1.02 million, but a back and forth battle ensured over the next four hours, with both players exchanging the lead.

Finally, on the 190th hand of the final table, a short-stacked Sanders shoved his last 700,000 or so into the middle holding pocket 3s. Hufty woke up with K-Q offsuit and made the call, but he bricked through the turn on a 10-9-2-7 board.

The river rained down a King, however, sending the match – and the gold bracelet – to a grateful Hufty.

Speaking to the assembled poker media after the final card hit the felt, Hufty was overcome with emotions:

“I’ve thought about this every day for the last 15 years and for it to actually happen is just unbelievable.
I have a passion for poker, it’s just something you can’t explain.
It’s nice that this happened so early in the Series so I will probably fire a few more events here and there.”
Check out how the rest of the final table fared below:

Final Table Results:
1st place: Jordan Hufty $61,909
2nd place: Jodie Sanders $38,246
3rd place: Katie Kopp $26,250
4th place: Zachary Seymour $18,332
5th place: Won Kim $13,031
6th place: Tom Booker $9,432
7th place: Thomas Yenowine $6,953
8th place: Skyler Yeaton $5,222
9th place: Jason Pepper $3,998
10th place: Brad Helm $3,120
Event #2: $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty No Limit Holdem (May 30)
Winner: Elio Fox (2nd bracelet)
Prize: $393,693
Field: 243 entries

As a new addition to the WSOP schedule (can link here to previous post on new events), the $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty No Limit Holdem event had a lot of working parts for players to sort through.

In exchange for the big $10K buy-in, the starting stacks were increased to 50,000 chips. But as the “Super Turbo” caveat suggests, the pace was fast and furious with blind levels shortened to just 20 minutes.

Finally, eliminating any player from the field was enough to earn a $3,000 bounty.

With all of those features combined, Event #2 of this year’s WSOP proved to be a smashing success. A total of 243 players showed up, including many of the brightest stars in poker.

Twitch streaming sensation Jason Somerville, high-roller extraordinaire Fedor Holz, Stephen Chidwick, and Steffen Sontheimer, and 2016 WSOP Main Event champ Joe McKeehen were among the early casualties. The all-time winningest WSOP player, 14-time bracelet holder Phil Hellmuth, also took a shot and missed the mark.

With so many stars when the early level fireworks reached their finale, the final table lineup was stacked to say the least. Joe Cada – winner of the 2009 WSOP Main Event and a two-time bracelet winner to that point – was in the house, along with two-time bracelet holder Paul Volpe, and 2011 WSOP Europe Main Event champ Elio Fox.

Cada hit the rail first with a 9th place finish, while Volpe dominated the final table’s early going.

But with six players remaining, Fox sprung into action by calling two all-in bets with his A-K offsuit. He was out in front of Danny Wong’s A-10 of clubs, but Charles Johanin’s J-J created a classic coin flip confrontation.

The flop came down all baby cards with three hearts, and with the Ace of hearts in hand, Fox saw his outs increase from five to 14. He found one of them on the turn with the Ace of spades, and a brick on the river sent the massive pot of 7 million chips his way – while consigning Johanin and Wong to 5th and 4th place finishes, respectively.

Shortly thereafter, Fox dispatched Volpe in 3rd place when A-J held over A-8 in a preflop all-in situation. That gave him a big 7 to 1 lead against Adam Adler heads-up, and while Adler acquitted himself nicely by fighting back to double up, Fox won another big flip with 2-2 over A-10 to clinch his second gold bracelet.

Here’s how he described the unique Super Turbo Bounty structure during his winner’s interview:

“There was such a big field. And I think there was a good mixture of pros and recreational players.
I think doing turbos is great because it’s good for non-professional players who can finish an event quickly.
“Bounty turbo formats appear a lot online, so I’ve definitely played it a lot, but I think it’s a great addition to the WSOP schedule.”
Check below to see where the rest of the final table wound up, and how much they took home:

Final Table Results:
1st place: Elio Fox $393,693
2nd place: Adam Adler $253,343
3rd place: Paul Volpe $169,195
4th place: Danny Wong $119,659
5th place: Charles Johanin $86,096
6th place: Alex Foxen $63,042
7th place: David Eldridge $46,993
8th place: Taylor Black $35,671
9th place: Joe Cada $27,582
Event #3: $3,000 No Limit Holdem Shootout (May 31 – June 3)
Winner: Joe Cada (3rd bracelet)
Prize: $226,218
Field: 363 entries

Back in 2009, when Joe Cada took down poker’s most prestigious title, the 21-year old WSOP Main Event champion was dubbed the “The Kid.”

Fast forward nearly a decade later, and an older, wiser Cada hasn’t lost his winning ways. After final tabling, the previous $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty, the Michigan-based pro went to work in Event #3: $3,000 No Limit Holdem Shootout.

Unlike the majority of WSOP bracelet events, which are played out as multi-table tournaments, the Shootout uses a single-table structure. On the first day of play, the 363 entrants were divided into 50 tables, and the action played out either seven- or eight-handed.

These sit-and-go tables were a one-and-done affair, so players needed only to win their table to advance to Day 2. Among those to do so were the “Poker Brat” himself, Phil Hellmuth, along with multiple bracelet winners like Eli Elezra, Chris Moorman, Joe McKeehen, and of course, Cada.

Day 2 saw the remaining 50 players divided into 10 five-handed tables, and when it was all said and done, both Cada and McKeehen made their way to the final 10-handed table. That pitted two former WSOP Main Event World Champions against one another, with both looking to claim their third career bracelet.

Eventually, the pair played their way down to three-handed play, with Sam Phillips standing in their way. Phillips found himself crippled down to 100,000, or less than two big blinds, but he managed to triple up and survive.

McKeehen, meanwhile, had dominated through much of the final table, but he ultimately fell in 3rd place after making a bold play to go for the win. With 6-6 in the hole, McKeehen watched Cada three-bet big, so he responded with an all-in shove.

Cada had him covered in chips, and with a better pocket pair in K-K, he made the easy call. A flop of K-Q-J seemed to leave McKeehen dead in the water, but he found the 6 of hearts on the turn for the sweat. Alas, the case 6 failed to materialize for the miracle comeback, and McKeehen was ousted in his second major 3rd place run – having almost won the World Poker Tour Bobby Baldwin Classic just before the WSOP kicked off.

With a massive chip lead now secured, Cada looked to have things wrapped up, but Phillips pushed back with two straight doubles to even the score.

Finally, with their stacks essentially even, Cada called with 6-6 after Phillips shoved his A-4 offsuit. Phillips found a 4 on the flop, but no more help would arrive, sending the bracelet and the cash over to “The Kid.”

With two final tables under his belt in the first two events, Cada was clearly confident in his game while talking to reporters after the win:

“I’m feeling great, it’s tough to win any No-Limit tournament. It means a lot to win my third bracelet.
I have loved the WSOP ever since being a kid, I watched it all the time on TV. Winning these bracelets, it’s unreal.
You’ve got to just run good and I’m lucky to run better than everyone else.”
Complete final table placement and payouts can be found below:

Final Table Results:
1st place: Joe Cada $226,218
2nd place: Sam Phillips $139,804
3rd place: Joe McKeehen $101,766
4th place: Jack Maskill $74,782
5th place: Harry Lodge $55,480
6th place: IharSoika $41,559
7th place: Anthony Reategui $31,435
8th place: Taylor Wilson $24,013
9th place: Joshua Turner $18,526
10th place: Jeffrey Trudeau $14,437
Event #4: $1,500 Omaha Hi-Lo 8 or Better (May 31 – June 3)
Winner: Julien Martini
Prize: $239,771
Field: 911 entries

The first event of the series to feature a poker variant other than No Limit Texas Holdem, the four-card game of Omaha Hi Lo 8 or Better is, appropriately enough, found fourth on the schedule.

For Holdem fans who aren’t aware, Omaha simply puts four hole cards in your starting hand, rather than two. From there, the game plays out similarly, with players sharing a flop, turn, and river on the community card board. At showdown, players table their best two-card combination, and in conjunction with three board cards, form their best possible hand.

Pot Limit Omaha uses only high hands, while the Omaha Hi Lo 8 or Better version offers two ways to win.

Whenever a player can table a five-card low – or a run of cards all under 8 – they’re eligible to claim half the pot.

With a relatively low buy-in of $1,500, Event #4 attracted 911 entries, including well-known multiple bracelet winners like Mike “The Mouth” Matusow and Layne “Back to Back” Flack.

While several stars made deep runs, the final table was largely occupied by up and coming grinders and outright amateurs.

The most recognizable name for poker fans was probably Kate Hoang, a recreational player who happens to be one of the best in the world at Omaha Hi Lo 8 or Better. Of her seven career cashes at the WSOP, Hoang has made the money in this variant every time out – including an 8th place run at last year’s $10,000 World Championship of the game.

Hoang very nearly won her first bracelet this time around, putting on a show for the ages during a nearly four-hour heads-up match against Julien Martini.

In the end, however, Hoang fell just short and had to settle for 2nd place.

As for Martini, the Frenchmen told media members that winning his first gold bracelet was literally a dream come true:

“It was a dream when I was 14 years old.
What kind of guy can win a $1,500 tournament or a $10,000? I was dreaming about this for seven years, and it is one of the best things in my life.
I am very proud and super happy.”
See below for a full rundown of the eight-handed final table:

Final Table Results:
1st place: Julien Martini $239,771
2nd place: Kate Hoang $148,150
3rd place: Mack Lee $104,016
4th place: William Kopp $74,058
5th place: Brandon Ageloff $53,482
6th place: Chad Eveslage $39,182
7th place: Rafael Concepcion $29,128
8th place: Denny Axel $21,977
Event #5: $100,000 No Limit Holdem High Roller (June 1 – 4)
Winner: Nick Petrangelo (2nd bracelet)
Prize: $2,910,227
Field: 105 entries

Over the last few years, poker has been transformed by the rise of the high-rollers.

Whereas the biggest tournaments in the world used to cost $10,000 to enter, maybe $25,000 for a special event – today’s top players routinely pony up six-figures to play against their elite peers.

Just before the WSOP got underway in fact, the Aria hosted an exclusive $300,000 event known as the Super High Roller Bowl.

There, veteran pro Nick Petrangelo weaved his way to a 6th place result, good enough for a $900,000 cash. He used a portion of those winnings to enter Event #5: $100,000 No Limit Holdem High Roller – appearing on the WSOP schedule for the first time ever.

Once again squaring off with the best players in the world, Petrangelo proved he belonged in that group by playing his way to heads-up. There, he faced none other than Elio Fox, winner of the $10,000 Super Turbo Bounty event a few days earlier.

Unfortunately for poker fans watching the live stream from home, Petrangelo and Fox elected to strike a deal, “chopping” the last $4.7 million up for grabs evenly among themselves. From there, a series of blind bets and raises finished off the on-felt action, and Petrangelo was lucky enough to “win” his second career bracelet.

Here’s how he described the last week of high-stakes, high-roller action to assembled media after the win:

“Last week I played the Super High Roller Bowl. Then the very next day I jumped right into this.
So after a super intense week, it feels like a relief to be done more than anything. There’s a lot of pressure playing against really tough players for huge buy-ins, especially with the stream.
This kind of event is super tough, but they’re really fun, and it’s what I love to do.”
Look below for the full final table lineup:

Final Table Results:

1st place: Nick Petrangelo $2,910,227
2nd place: Elio Fox $1,798658
3rd place: AymonHata $1,247,230
4th place: Andreas Eiler $886,793
5th place: Bryn Kenney $646,927
6th place: Stephen Chidwick $484,551
7th place: Jason Koon $372,894
8th place: Adrian Mateos $295,066
Event #8: $2,500 Mixed Triple Draw Lowball (June 2 – 5)
Winner: Johannes Becker
Prize: $180,455
Field:321 entries

The majority of recreational players don’t know much about Lowball games like Ace-to-Five or Deuce-to-Seven, but these variants are classics. Along with Badugi, a draw game based on landing four low cards featuring all four suits, those games comprise Event #8: $2,500 Mixed Triple Draw lowball.

Johannes Becker of Germany outlasted the 321-player field to win his first career bracelet, and to hear him tell the tale, the three-game mix was right up his alley:

“I was kind of wondering whether I should play or not.
But given that I’ve been looking forward to this specific tournament and it’s kind of my mix, I decided to give it a shot anyway.”
I didn’t expect to win. I started catching cards and that worked out great.”
Info on the entire six-handed final table can be found below:

Final Table Results:

1st place: Johannes Becker $180,455
2nd place: Scott Seiver $111,516
3rd place: Jesse Hampton $71,547
4th place: Chris Vitch $47,166
5th place: George Trigeorgis $31,873
6th place: Luis Velador $22,304
Event #10: $365 WSOP.com Online No Limit Holdem (June 3)
Winner: William ‘Twooopair’ Reymond
Prize: $154,996
Field: 2,972 entries

Online bracelet events debuted in 2015, courtesy of the legal and regulated WSOP.com online poker platform.

Pro player Anthony Spinella took that inaugural tournament down, and he made the final table in this one, the first of four online events on the summer.

But Spinella bowed out in 7th place, leaving William ‘Twooopair’ Reymond to battle it out heads-up against Shawn ‘sHaDySTeeM’ Stroke.

The tournament played out entirely on WSOP.com within one day’s time, and when it was all said and done, Reymond turned his first recorded tournament cash into his first gold bracelet.

To see how the rest of the final table stacked up, see below:

Final Table Results:

1st place: William ‘Twooopair’ Reymond $154,996
2nd place: Shawn ‘sHaDySTeeM’ Stroke $94,265
3rd place: Stephen ‘SteveSpuell’ Buell $69,017
4th place: Ryan ‘LoveMy11Cats’ Belz $50,593
5th place: Elliott ‘Ekampen05’ Kampen $37,530
6th place: Josh ‘YoelRomero’ King $27,977
7th place: Anthony ‘nowb3athat’ Spinella $21,251
8th place: Michael ‘myapologies’ Hauptman $16,279
9th place: Jennifer ‘moistymire’ Miller $12,478
Conclusion
The first week of the WSOP is in the books, and we have several more before the big main event gets underway. While the series isn’t as popular as it was a few years back, it still draws thousands of players from all over the world to compete for fame, money, and a gold bracelet.

Leo Santa Cruz vs Abner Mares 2 Odds, Preview and Pick

Leo Santa Cruz and Abner Mares renew their hostilities as the two Los Angeles based featherweights fight for Santa Cruz’s WBA ( super ) featherweight world title at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California on June 9, 2018.

Battle Of Los Angeles
This will be the second time that Santa Cruz and Mares will share the squared circle as the two went toe to toe in the highly publicized “Battle of Los Angeles” in 2015. Santa Cruz emerged victorious in that closely fought 12 round war as the judges awarded him with a 117-111, 117-111 and 114-114 majority decision win.

Santa Cruz came off the gates fast but it was Mares who finished the fight strong. The back and forth action plus the fact that it was one of the most viewed boxing matches on ESPN made it easy to talk a rematch. But instead of booking it right away, the fighters took separate roads first.

Separate Roads
After Santa Cruz captured the WBA ( super ) featherweight title against Mares, he took a title defense against former IBF super bantamweight titlist Kiko Martinez. Santa Cruz knocked out Martinez in five rounds to keep his belt. In April 2016, Santa Cruz ventured to a showdown with Belfast star Carl Frampton who was moving up from the super bantamweight division. Frampton upset Santa Cruz and handed the Mexican the first defeat of his career via majority decision.

Six months later, Santa Cruz would get an immediate rematch. In an equally close contest, Santa Cruz turned the tables on Frampton and won by a similar majority decision. Following the win, Santa Cruz was ordered by the WBA to fight Mares who was declared as mandatory challenger and the WBA ( regular ) champion. Mares won that title by defeating Jesus Cuellar in December 2016.

Bragging Rights
But the negotiations for their rematch didn’t go as planned and both ended up fighting different opponents. However, to keep the interest of their rematch burning, they were booked to fight on the same fight card last October. Santa Cruz ended up fighting Chris Avalos, winning that bout via 8th round knockout. Mares meanwhile, fought Mexican champion Andres Gutierrez in October 2017 and won the fight via technical decision.

With their designated victims beaten and all negotiation obstacles finally settled, the runback was finally penciled for June 9th. Of course, there was no better place to host the rematch than the city which both of these featherweight calls home. The winner doesn’t just get the belt but also the bragging rights.

High Volume Puncher
The 29-year-old Santa Cruz owns a record of 34-1-1 with 19 knockouts. At 5-7 and with a reach of 69 inches, he holds a significant size advantage over Abner Mares who stands 5-4 and has a reach of 66 inches. In his loss to Carl Frampton, Santa Cruz didn’t have his father Jose Santa Cruz to train him. The elder Santa Cruz had recently been diagnosed with stage 3 multiple myeloma. With his father conquering cancer since Leo’s motivation has never been higher.

Santa Cruz is known as one of the sport’s most voluminous puncher. He throws tons of punches and keeps on coming forward. His work rate and accuracy are what makes him stand out from the field. He doesn’t have knockout power but it’s his speed, volume, and timing that give him stoppage wins.

LEO SANTA CRUZ VS ABNER MARES
12 RD WBA ( SUPER ) FEATHERWEIGHT TITLE
ODDS: SANTA CRUZ -400, MARES +300
( PER Bovada as of 6/5/18 11:22 am (EST) )
Pressure Fighter
Like Santa Cruz, Mares throws a lot of punches. The 32-year-old former Olympic boxer from Mexico has a professional record of 31-2-1 with 15 knockouts. Mares was Golden Boy’s top prospect when he was upset by Jhonny Gonzalez in 2013. He never got to avenge his loss to Gonzalez but he’ll get an opportunity to get his revenge on Santa Cruz on Saturday night.

Mares puts a lot of pressure on his opponents by staying busy with rapid-fire combinations. He loves to work the body and often gets too aggressive that he lands low and gets penalized. Compared to Santa Cruz, he has inferior punching power. But he makes up for that with his tireless work ethic and determination. He never gives up and he never stops punching.

Fight Of The Year?
Like the first bout, this one has all the recipe for a fight of the year candidate. Both fighters are offensively gifted and a chess match is the last thing you’d see in this fight. There was no dull moment in the first bout as both fighters willingly stood in front of each other and traded punches. With both fighters possessing granite chins, their first bout was an instant classic that had fans going crazy.

Not only was their first bout action-packed, it was a back and forth affair. As we said earlier, Santa Cruz had the better start but it was Mares who poured it on late in the bout. Unfortunately for Mares, Santa Cruz had built a big lead on points and his comeback came up short.

Pure Boxer
These are two equally special fighters who are both champions. But between the two, Leo Santa Cruz is the pure boxer who also has more punching power and the advantage in size. Abner Mares is tough and persistent as they come but unless he stops Leo Santa Cruz, he will need to fight the perfect bout to win.

Santa Cruz can choose to fight from the outside and with his three-inch advantage in height and reach, he can easily outpoint Mares and coast for the victory. But that’s not who Leo Santa Cruz is. He is going to pour it on from start to finish. And that could give Mares an opportunity.

2018 NBA Finals Preview

Although both teams took unconventional roads to get here, we ended up getting the NBA Finals we were expecting all along. The Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers will lock horns for Association supremacy for an unprecedented fourth straight time after each overcame 3-2 deficits in their respective conference finals.

For the Warriors, it’s a chance to cement their place in NBA history as a legitimate dynasty (three titles in four years would look a lot better than two in four). Meanwhile, a Cleveland victory could move LeBron James past Michael Jordan in the minds of many when it comes to the ongoing debate of who is the greatest player in NBA history.

Golden State won both regular-season meetings this year, posting a seven-point win at home on Christmas Day and then beating the Cavs by 10 on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Cleveland. But the Cavaliers blew up their roster with a series of trades just a few weeks later, and this will be a much different-looking Cleveland squad that takes the court when the Finals tip off Thursday in Oakland.

Let’s look at the betting odds for this series, then break down the matchup to see where the best betting value lies.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from BetOnline.ag at 10 a.m eastern on May 30, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

2018 NBA Finals Odds
This series looks incredibly lopsided on paper, and the oddsmakers agree. BetOnline lists Golden State as a -960 favorite to win the best-of-seven Finals, which implies the Warriors have more than a 90% probability of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy for the third time in four years.

NBA Finals Series Odds
Cleveland Cavaliers: +710
Golden State Warriors: -960
On the other hand, there’s a ton of value on the Cavaliers, whose +710 potential takeback is the highest of any team LeBron James has taken to the finals. It doesn’t take Lloyd Christmas to realize that if you’ve got The King, you’ve got a chance, and LeBron already took down this Warriors dynasty a couple of years ago.

That said, asking James to do the same this year is a very tall order. He no longer has Kyrie Irving at his side, Kevin Love’s availability is cloudy (more on that later), and the rest of his supporting cast has been spotty at best.

Fortunately, there are many other ways to bet on the NBA Finals series without laying 10 to win 1 on the Warriors or taking the Cavs on a wing and a prayer. Here are some of the NBA Finals series props currently available at BetOnline:

Cavaliers Series Handicap
Cleveland +1 Games: +600
Cleveland +1.5 Games: +400
Cleveland +2 Games: +340
Cleveland +2.5 Games: +210
Cleveland +3 Games: +100
Warriors Series Handicap
Golden State -1 Games: -800
Golden State -1.5 Games: -550
Golden State -2 Games: -425
Golden State -2.5 Games: -250
Golden State -3 Games: -120
Series Game Total
Over 4.5 Games -220/Under 4.5 Games +180
Over 5 Games +125/Under 5 Games -145
Over 5.5 Games +170/Under 5.5 Games -210
Over 6 Games +400/Under 6 Games -500
Over 6.5 Games +550/Under 6.5 Games -700
Series Exact Outcome
Cleveland in 4 Games: +15000
Cleveland in 5 Games: +5000
Cleveland in 6 Games: +1400
Cleveland in 7 Games: +1600
Golden State in 4 Games: +175
Golden State in 5 Games: +150
Golden State in 6 Games: +500
Golden State in 7 Games: +700
When Will Series Finish
Game 4: +175
Game 5: +150
Game 6: +425
Game 7: +525
Where Will Series Finish
At Cleveland (Game 4 or 5): -130
At Golden State (Game 6 or 7): +110
NBA Finals Individual Game Odds
It’s also going to be difficult to find value on the Warriors in individual games, judging by the point spread for Game 1. Golden State is a 12.5-point favorite to crush the Cavaliers Thursday in Oakland, marking the largest point spread in an NBA Finals opener since Allen Iverson singlehandedly carried the undermanned Sixers to the 2001 Finals versus the powerful Lakers. (Philadelphia pulled off the outright upset in Game 1, by the way, before losing the next four games in the series.)

The best times to back Golden State in individual games should be in Cleveland, where the point spreads will be much lower to account for the Cavaliers’ home court advantage. With home floor worth approximately 3 points on the NBA point spread, that means we should see the Warriors favored by 6-7 points in games played in Ohio. Conversely, the Cavs will have their most betting value when playing in Golden State, where they might backdoor a point spread or two with a meaningless bucket in the final minute of a blowout.

Five Things To Watch For In The NBA Finals
Golden State’s Dominance In Third Quarters
The third quarter has been Golden State’s best frame all season, and that trend has continued into the postseason. The Warriors have outscored opponents by 130 points in the third quarter during these playoffs, and by just 20 points in the other three quarters combined. Steve Kerr is obviously making some effective adjustments during halftime, and Golden State has also had to play with some urgency in third quarters after sleepwalking its way through the opening half of several games in these playoffs.

With Cleveland shooting less than 35% from the field during third quarters of this postseason, it’s a great recipe for a Warriors live bet once the third quarter begins. However, Golden State’s dominance of the third frame is hardly a secret, especially after the Dubs outscored Houston by 35 points in the third quarter of the last two games in the Western final. With the oddsmakers likely to adjust for this trend, it could be hard to find betting value.

Injuries
Both teams come into this series with concerns about the health of important players. Cleveland had to play Game 7 of the Eastern final without five-time All-Star Kevin Love (concussion), while the Warriors were without Andre Iguodala (leg contusion) for the final four games of their series against Houston.

Iguodala can be a bit of a forgotten man on a Golden State roster that is loaded with so much talent but don’t forget that he was the NBA Finals MVP against Cleveland just four years ago. Although the Warriors can also choose to guard LeBron James with Draymond Green or even Kevin Durant, Iguodala would be their ideal choice to try to contain The King, and his return would be huge for a Golden State team that struggled without him in the Western final.

But while the Warriors can still win this series without a healthy Iguodala, the same can’t be said of the Cavaliers if Love isn’t a big contributor. Other than James, he’s the only Cleveland player who is averaging double-digit point totals in the playoffs, and his ability to score in the paint would allow the Cavs to exploit Golden State’s biggest weakness defensively.

Cleveland’s Three-Point Shooting
With how prolifically the Warriors can shoot the three-ball, opponents don’t stand a chance unless they can hit the 3 themselves. Cleveland’s ability (or inability) to stroke it from beyond the arc will go a long way towards determining if the Cavaliers can even keep things close in the NBA Finals.

Judging by the playoffs so far, things don’t look good for the Cavs. Although they were a strong three-point shooting team during the regular season (37.2%), they’ve hit just 33.9% of their treys in the first three rounds. And while it’s true that Kyle Korver and J.R. Smith can get hot at any time, they’re now facing a Golden State squad that has clamped down on opposing three-point shooters in the playoffs, allowing a league-low 31.9% from distance.

Who Will Stop Durant? Or Curry? Or Thompson?
In last year’s Finals, the Cavaliers simply didn’t have an answer defensively for Durant. KD went off for 35.2 points per game in Golden State’s 5-game victory, shooting a blistering 55.6% from the field on his way to MVP honors. And even if the Cavs put their best defensive player (LeBron) on Durant, it just opens the floor for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson instead.

The scary thing for the Cavs is that last year’s team was a lot better defensively than this season’s outfit. Cleveland was second-last in the NBA in defensive rating during the regular season, allowing a dreadful 109.9 points per game. The Cavaliers’ defense has been improved in the playoffs, but don’t forget that they’ve only had to face Indiana, the perennial playoff choke-artist Raptors, and the defensive-minded Celtics. It’s quite possible, and even likely, that Cleveland’s defense gets exposed in a big way in this series.

Does LeBron Have Anything Left In The Tank?
The King has been absolutely incredible in these playoffs, averaging 34 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 8.8 assists through the first three rounds. But as dangerous as it is to ever question the abilities of LeBron, we also can’t ignore the possibility that he may finally hit the wall in this series.

Over the final two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron was on the floor for 94 of a possible 96 minutes. He’s averaged 41.3 minutes of court time per game in these playoffs (3.5 more than Durant and nearly six more than Curry), and that’s after leading the entire NBA in minutes played during the regular season.

A four-day break between the Eastern finals and Thursday’s opener may help him catch his breath, but he’s still 33 years old and Game 1 of the NBA Finals will be his 101st game of the season. Factor in how much weight he has to carry for the Cavaliers every night and fatigue could finally take its toll.