06/03/2001 11:00PM

Bookies making it hard to bet the Lakers


LAS VEGAS - If you listen to everyone, whether they are experts or just average Joes on the street, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Los Angeles Lakers are going to win the NBA title.

So if you're going to bet on the Lakers to beat the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals, which start Wednesday night, you're going to pay a steep price.

The Lakers are -2000 favorites to win the best-of-seven series, meaning you have to risk $20 in order to win $1. The 76ers have been installed as 14-1 underdogs.

Jeff Sherman, sports book supervisor at the Regent Las Vegas, said, "It pretty much says that we don't want any Laker money. We're pretty well set in our future book, so we'll let the players take the 76ers.

Besides, it would take a monumental effort for them to knock off the Lakers the way they're playing now."

The Lakers have won 19 in a row (15-3-1 against the spread), including 11 in the playoffs (9-1-1 ATS). Las Vegas Sports Consultants, which supplies odds to 90 percent of Nevada's sports books, opened the Lakers as 11 1/2-point favorites in Wednesday night's Game 1 and The Regent and the Park Place Entertainment properties (including Caesars Palace) followed suit.

Several other books (including the Stardust, Station Casinos and the MGM/Mirage properties) opened the game at 12. If you're just looking to pick the straight-up winner, the Lakers are -900 at the Stardust (-800 at the Regent) with the 76ers at +600 (+550 at the Regent).

The over/under on Game 1 ranges from 190 at the Stardust and Stations Casinos to 191 at Caesars Palace, with MGM/Mirage and the Regent splitting the difference at 190 1/2. The first-half line at the Regent is the Lakers -6 with an over/under of 95 1/2.

But this being the Finals, there are many other ways to bet each game. For instance, the Stardust has a money line on the first half with the Lakers -300 and the 76ers +240.

The Stardust also has odds on who will win and in how many games. The 5-6 favorite is for the Lakers to sweep all four games (the Regent also has a Lakers sweep at 5-6, but you can also bet the other side and get even-money that they won't sweep). Lakers in five is 7-5 with 5-2 on the Lakers to win in six and 7-1 on the Lakers in seven. A 76ers sweep would be worth 200-1, with the odds declining to 60-1 for 76ers in five, 50-1 for 76ers in six and 35-1 for 76ers in seven.

Ed Salmons, sports books supervisor at the Imperial Palace, was still working on proposition wagers for Game 1 as of deadline Monday. Salmons said the IP would have about 20 props, including six players props on each team (plus extra points/rebounds/assists props on Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, and Allen Iverson), total points for each team, highest scorer in each game, highest rebounder in each game and probably a Shaq free-throw prop.

NBA Finals Picks

Both teams were 56-26 during the regular season, and if the Lakers hadn't won their last eight games or if the 76ers hadn't lost to the Bulls in their season finale, Philadelphia would have the home-court advantage. These teams split the season series, with each winning and covering at home, so even though everyone is looking for a Lakers sweep, the odds are certainly in favor of the 76ers stealing a game.

Another thing working in favor of the 76ers is that the Lakers haven't played in 10 days. I think the Lakers will be rustier than the 76ers will be exhausted.

Betting strategy: I'll take the 76ers +12 in Game 1 with a small money-line wager at +600 to win straight up. If you're typically a $100 bettor, I would suggest $88 on the 76ers +12 and only $10 on the money-line wager; you don't want to give away too much profits if the 76ers cover but lose the game outright. If the 76ers get blown out in Game 1, would make the same play in Game 2 on Friday night. If the 76ers come through in Game 1, I would take the money and run, sitting out Game 2, which would probably be a Lakers rout, but with a pointspread that will be too high to consider backing the Lakers.

Book Notes

The Devils and Avalanche were tied at two games apiece heading into Monday night's Game 5 at Colorado. The Avalanche's collapse in Game 4 (leading 2-1 before Patrick Roy's miscue let the Devils back in the game and the series) added more drama to the series, but it's still not attracting much interest in Nevada's sports books.

"We have baseball games in which teams have over 100 games left in their season that handle more than a Stanley Cup game," said the Stardust's Lupo. "It's almost a non-event from a betting standpoint." Game 6 is Thursday night at New Jersey, with the Devils expected to be a heavy favorite (in the -200 range) to either clinch the title or send it back to Denver for a Game 7.

* The College World Series begins Friday and Lupo said the Stardust would have odds up on Tuesday (one qualifying game remained to be played Monday). USC is one of the favorites now that LSU was ousted by Tulane over the weekend. Perennial contenders Stanford and Miami (Fla.) also have advanced in the double-elimination tournament.

* Tiger Woods won his third straight Memorial title over the weekend. The Regent, which has a large golfing clientele, had Woods at even money. After Woods's seven-stroke Memorial victory, Sherman lowered Woods' odds to win the U.S. Open next week from 5-4 (which he had up for several weeks) to even money.