04/24/2003 11:00PM

Baseball trends happen - but catch them early

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LAS VEGAS - The early bettor gets the profits.

Professional sports bettors love to bet early in a season because they feel they have an edge over the oddsmakers. As a season progresses, the lines typically get tighter. Bettors are always looking for trends before everyone else gets on the bandwagon.

John Kelly, the host of the "Stardust Line" radio show, made an interesting observation about the weather affecting early-season baseball betting. Of the 24 National League games played Tuesday through Thursday (all of which were played east of the Mississippi), the under was 19-4-1. He said that it's hard for the offenses to get hot when temperatures are in the 30's and 40's.

Of course, the key is to find that trend before everyone else does, or at least before the trend runs its course. But keep an eye on the weather (especially in night games) before it warms up. The oddsmakers can only set the totals so low.

Not surprisingly, the Royals are the biggest moneymaker for bettors so far this season. The Royals have a record of 16-3 through Thursday, and a bet on each of their games would have resulted in a profit of 15.5 units (based on betting 1 unit on them as an underdog and laying the price to win 1 unit on them as a favorite). Since it has taken a while for oddsmakers and bettors to adjust, they have been underdogs in more than half of their games (10 out of 19), despite playing a weak schedule.

For the sake of comparison, the Yankees at 18-4 were off to the best start in franchise record, but they are still up only 8.8 units because bettors usually have to lay a steep price to back them. The Giants are the second-best team for bettors at 11.1 units.

The worst team for bettors is the lowly Tigers, right? Wrong.

The Tigers were 2-18 through Thursday for a net loss of 13.4 units, while the Diamondbacks were actually a bigger money-burner with a better won-loss record of 8-14 but a net loss of 17 units.

Bob Scucci, the race and sports book director at the Stardust, says bettors try to rack up profits just as much by going against bad teams as betting on good ones. Bookmakers expect the Diamondbacks to fare better when Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling return to health and bettors will obviously back them, but he said that's not the case with the Tigers.

"I can pretty much guarantee we're going to need the Tigers every game the rest of the year," Scucci said.

Back to betting the totals, the Red Sox have the best record with the over at 15-4-3. The Reds, Rockies, Yankees, and Blue Jays were all 14-7 (with various numbers of pushes) through Thursday. The Tigers were 14-5-1 with the under, while the Dodgers were right behind at 14-6-2.

NBA betting fever . . . cash it

In Wednesday's NBA action, my picks went 3-1, as the Pistons beat the Magic 89-77 as a 5 1/2-point favorite (though I lost an over wager on 183 1/2) and the Blazers covered as a 6-point underdog to the Mavericks in a 103-99 loss in which I also had the over at 192.

In Sunday's action, the East's No. 8-seeded Celtics, with a 2-1 lead over the Pacers, have the opportunity to take control of their series at home. I'll take the Celtics -1 1/2.

After romping in their series opener, the Lakers are down 2-1 to the Timberwolves after Thursday night's overtime loss. The three-time defending champ Lakers will likely even the series with a home victory Sunday, but 9 1/2 is still a lot to lay, so I'll take the T-Wolves plus the points.

Stanley Cup runneth wild

The NHL playoffs continue to be turned upside down. The Red Wings were the 5-2 favorite to win the Stanley Cup - until they were swept by the Mighty Ducks. The Avalance and Stars were the co-second choices at 4-1. The Avs were knocked out in a Game 7 by the Wild on Tuesday night. The Stars struggled versus the Oilers, falling behind two games to one, before prevailing four games to two. They were made the 9-5 favorite to win it all at MGM Mirage properties, but then they lost a five-overtime thriller to the Ducks on Thursday night. The chances of the East's No. 1 and 2 seeds - the Senators (3-1) and Devils (7-2) - are looking better all the time.

* Sunday marks the one-year anniversary of the shootout between members of the Hells Angels and Mongols motorcycle clubs in the Harrah's Laughlin casino during the city's annual River Run, held about 80 miles south of Las Vegas. Security has been increased for this weekend's Run, which typically draws 60,000 motorcycle enthusiasts.