04/12/2005 11:00PM

Heat, Spurs co-choices in NBA

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The NBA regular season ends next Wednesday, with the playoffs starting next Saturday.

In years past, there would usually be a lot of uncertainty about which teams would fill the seventh and eighth slots in each conference, but this year there is not as much suspense with who will be in the playoffs. And, except for the Suns and Spurs battling for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and a few other seedings to shake out, it is pretty clear what the first-round matchups are going to look like.

Therefore, the future-book odds that were available as of Wednesday afternoon and that will be available this weekend are pretty close to what you will see next Saturday when the playoffs start.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Heat and Spurs, despite sitting as the No. 2 seed behind the Suns, as the co-favorites at 6-5 to win the league championship. The Suns are 9-5, and the defending champion Pistons, who have been playing like champs lately, are 3-1. There's a gap to the Mavericks at 7-1 and Sonics at 8-1, and then a big drop-off to the rest of the teams with the Kings, Rockets and Nuggets at 20-1, the Celtics, Bulls, and Pacers at 30-1, the Wizards, Grizzlies, and 76ers at 35-1 and the Cavaliers at 50-1.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were only three other teams that were mathematically alive. LVSC had the Nets - who trailed the 76ers by one game and the Cavs by two - at 75-1 and the Magic and Timber-wolves each at 10,000-1.

It's interesting to note that the Lakers were the 9-5 favorites when LVSC first posted 2005 NBA futures last June. Of course, that was before it was known that coach Phil Jackson and center Shaquille O'Neal were on the way out of L.A.

Odds set for dragster races

One of Milton Berle's old gags used to be about drag racing. He would run around in a dress.

Well, it's only fitting that the NHRA Summitracing.com Nationals would be held in Las Vegas because the city certainly has its share of female impersonators.

But this weekend's event is no joke as 30,000 people are expected to attend the races at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, located north of town on I-15. Qualifying rounds will be held Friday and Saturday, with the finals held at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Station Casinos, the first stop for many auto racing bettors, has Tony Schumacher, fresh off a victory last weekend in Houston, as the favorite in the Top Fuel division at 2-1. Cousins Doug and Scott Kalitta, are 5-2 and 4-1 respectively, followed by Morgan Lucas at 5-1 and Larry Dixon at 6-1. Rod Fuller, the only Las Vegan in the division and who nearly upset Schumacher last week, is the longest shot on the board at 35-1.

In the Funny Car division, John Force is favored at 5-2, followed by Whit Bazemore at 3-1, Gary Scezi at 4-1, Del Worsham at 9-2, and Tony Pedregon at 5-1.

In Pro Stock, Greg Anderson is 8-5, with Jason Line at 5-2, Warren Johnson at 3-1, Dave Connolly at 4-1, and Kurt Johnson at 5-1.

Micah Roberts, auto racing oddsmaker for Station Casinos, also has head-to-head matchups in each division.

Binion's to open new book

There have been a lot of changes in downtown Las Vegas, with a lot of new owners taking over from the old guard. Probably the best example of that was last year when the Binion's Horseshoe, founded by pioneer Benny Binion, was sold to Harrah's, which then turned around and sold it to Mountaineer Gaming.

Since the casino was sold to Harrah's, the race and sports book has sat empty, except for tables set up during the World Series of Poker or for various other poker programming that has been filmed at the famed property.

That changes Friday morning when the race and sports book reopens as an independent book. Shane Clark, formerly of the Orleans, has been named the race and sports book director and will be assisted by Bob Vilcheck, also from the Orleans. Clark said the book will open at 10 a.m. at the latest for parimutuel horse wagering from the East Coast, and possibly earlier.

Clark said he plans to run an aggressive book to compete with the other downtown properties, such as the Golden Nugget and Plaza, which have loosened up their odds under independent management.

"We'll have eight-team teasers and parlays available, and reverse run lines in baseball," Clark said. "We want to be a one-stop shop for bettors"

Last chance to pick these ponies

Monday at 5 p.m. is the early-bird deadline for the May 4-6 Pick the Ponies handicapping tournament at the Las Vegas Hilton. Those registering by 5 p.m. that day will have to pay only $400 instead of the advertised $500 entry fee.

The field is capped at 200 entries, with the Hilton pitching in the extra $100 for each early entry to make the total purse $100,000. As of noon Wednesday, 160 entries had been received, so the field is sure to fill up before the weekend is over. Contestants can sign up in person or call (702) 732-5111 to reserve their spot by credit card.