04/17/2014 2:14PM

Dave Tuley: Raptors vs. Nets toughest call in NBA's first round


The playoffs are also called the “second season.”

That’s done in all sports, but it’s especially appropriate in the NBA and NHL since they have played the better part of the past six months to whittle down the field to 16 teams, and those teams will compete over the next two months before crowning a champion.

I know from experience that the quickest way to lose readers is to ramble on and on about hockey, so suffice it to say that the Boston Bruins were made the 3-1 favorite at the LVH SuperBook heading into the playoffs, with the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins both at 7-1, and let’s move on to basketball.

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We have had a lot of movement at the top of the NBA futures, as the Indiana Pacers were the early front-runners this season but came back to the pack. And while a lot of people are saying that the best teams reside in the Western Conference, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat is the 9-5 favorite heading into the playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs, who finished with the league’s best record at 62-20, are the second choice at 5-2, with the Oklahoma City Thunder at 7-2 and then the Pacers at 5-1 (more than double their odds at the All-Star break) even though they regained home-court advantage in the East.

The NBA is usually very formful, especially in the early rounds, as the top teams are usually able to survive and advance even if they stumble for a game or two in a series. While waiting for the series prices to come up Thursday morning, there seemed to be one possible exception in the matchup of the East’s third-seeded Toronto Raptors and the sixth-seeded Brooklyn Nets.

The offshore book BetOnline made the Raptors a -135 favorite, but early betting flipped it all the way to the Nets -138 before getting back down toward pick-em, and it looks like it’s settling at Nets -120/Raptors EVEN. We don’t often see that with a 3-6 matchup (for instance, the West’s 3-6 matchup has the Los Angeles Clippers -350 against the Golden State Warriors), but the Nets will be a bigger favorite in their home games. Game 1 in that series, which tips off the back-to-back quadruple-headers Saturday and Sunday, has the Raptors as a 2.5-point favorite. Every other game this weekend has at least a 5-point spread, even the 4 vs. 5 matchups, with the Chicago Bulls against the Washington Wizards in the East and the Houston Rockets against the Portland Trail Blazers in the West, with the home teams close to -200 series favorites.

Just because favorites tend to advance in these series doesn’t mean there won’t be spots to take the points with the underdogs. I think I’m going to be on the Nets when they’re a road underdog starting Saturday, plus the Memphis Grizzlies +7 at Oklahoma City on Saturday (and other games when they are big dogs) as well as the Dallas Mavericks +9 on Sunday against the Spurs and throughout that series.

Kentucky Derby seminars start early

Since this Vegas column won’t appear again until Derby Day, I’d like to give a heads-up on the early-week activities being offered for horseplayers. I will be doing a seminar, including a look at the undercard, at the William Hill race book at the Plaza in downtown Las Vegas at 6 p.m. on Friday, May 2, with Paul Bach, the man behind WH’s Derby future book, but the week kicks off well before then.

The first seminar will be at 6:30 p.m., on Tuesday, April 29, at the Fiesta Henderson, with race and sports book manager Laura Travell leading a “Race 101” discussion for those new to our sport.

The event that usually kicks off Derby Week is the Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament at the LVH SuperBook. It used to run Wednesday through Friday but now is a two-day contest Thursday and Friday. Entrants make 12 mythical $100 across-the-board bets each day, with the first $50 paid at full track odds and the remainder capped at $36 to win, $16 to place, and $10 to show. The entry fee is $500, with 100 percent of the entry fees returned as prize money (plus an additional $5,000 in daily prizes). If you register and pay by 4 p.m. this Monday, the entry fee is reduced to $450, with the LVH kicking in the difference. As of early Thursday, they were nearing 150 entries, and the field is capped at 200.

Treasure Island, the host hotel of the Daily Racing Form /NTRA National Handicapping Championship, also is joining the Derby Weekend fun with three separate NHC qualifying tourneys on that Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Each has an entry fee of $250, with players making 11 mythical $2 win-and-place bets on five mandatory races and six races of the player’s choosing, with a cap of $42 to win and $22 to place. The top four finishers in each tournament will earn seats in the NHC finals, plus four nights of hotel accommodations and $400 toward airfare.

On Friday, after the Kentucky Oaks card (which will include a $10,000 Twin Quinella at Station Casino race book, plus the Oaks-Derby double as well as advance wagering available on Saturday’s Derby Day card), the Sunset Station in Henderson will have a 5 p.m. seminar with Ralph Siraco of the “Race Day Las Vegas” radio show and Jerry Jacovitz of Jerry J’s Power Page.

In addition to my seminar, there will be two events at 6 p.m., with Gordon Jones and race and sports book director Jackson Meeker at Boulder Station on the east side of town and host John Kelly, South Point handicapper Patrick McQuiggan, California clocker Toby Turrell, and Santa Anita VIP liaison Tom Quigley at the South Point on the south end of town.

We will run down the Derby Day parties and promotions on the first Saturday in May, as well as a look at which horses are future-book liabilities for the race books here.