04/23/2007 12:00AM

Strong start for underdogs

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Last year's first round of the NBA playoffs was the most exciting in recent memory - and many observers call it the best of all time - with many exciting games and six going to overtime.

It set the bar pretty high, but if this past Saturday and Sunday's series openers were any indication, we could be in for an encore. Of the eight games in which the lower-numbered seed had home-court advantage and was a favorite, three were outright upsets as East No. 6 seed New Jersey Nets beat the East No. 3 Toronto Raptors on Saturday, the West No. 6 seed Denver Nuggets beat the No. 3 San Antonio Spurs, and the No. 8 seed Golden State Warriors surprised the No. 1 Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

In the five games in which the favorite won - Chicago Bulls over Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons over Orlando Magic, Houston Rockets over Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers over Washington Wizards and Phoenix Suns over Los Angeles Lakers - only the Rockets and the Cavaliers covered as underdogs went 6-2 against the spread.

My picks in Saturday's Daily Racing Form fared well over the weekend as I won with the Nets +4 1/2 versus the Raptors, the Lakers +10 1/2 versus the Suns, and the Nuggets +300 on the money line versus the Spurs. My only losing recommendation was on the Heat +4 versus the Bulls, though the line got bet to Bulls -5 1/2, so most Miami bettors won if they waited until Saturday or at least got a push at +5 when the Bulls won 96-91.

Any discussion of NBA playoff betting should include the zig-zag theory, aka "loser-of-the-last theory," which simply says to bet the straight-up loser of the previous game in the next game against the spread. The logic is that the team that loses will be desperate to make up that game and will make adjustments while the winner might not make any adjustments. It was a huge playoff moneymaker for years, going 286-209-5 (58 percent) from 1984 through 2003, but has leveled off in recent years, going 15-16 in the 2004 first round, a barely profitable 18-16-1 in 2005, and then 16-18-3 last year. Last year it started out 11-5-2 (69 percent) before going 5-13-1 the rest of the first round.

If you wish to subscribe to the theory this year or just track its record, the plays on Monday (which is after the deadline for this article) would have been Magic +8 versus the Pistons and Jazz +5 1/2 versus the Rockets. The plays on Tuesday would have been Raptors -5 1/2 versus the Nets, Heat +3 1/2 versus the Bulls, and Suns -9 1/2 versus the Lakers. The plays on Wednesday would be Spurs -8 1/2 versus the Nuggets, Wizards +12 versus the Cavaliers and Mavericks -9 1/2 versus the Warriors. I don't necessarily recommend any of those plays, plus you can see in most cases that oddsmakers have shaded the numbers because they know bettors are looking to bet the zig-zag.

In totals wagers, unders went 6-2 on Saturday and Sunday, including the last five games all going under. The two that went over were the Heat-Bulls and Magic-Pistons, and oddsmakers kept the totals pretty much the same for game 2 in both of those series. The totals for both game 2s were shaded lower by an average of 2 1/2 points.

Last Saturday night, Jeff Gordon won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 Nextel Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway as the 7-1 co-favorite. The victory tied Gordon with the late Dale Earnhardt for sixth place on the all-time Nascar list with 76 career victories.

* Last Wednesday, when writing for Friday's Form, I pointed out that unders had been faring well in the first two weeks of the baseball season during a cold spell, but that it was best not to jump on the bandwagon. Instead, I wrote "it would be advisable to instead try to figure out when the overs might start cashing in bunches." After that was filed and posted on the drf.com web site last Wednesday night, overs went 7-5 on Thursday, 10-5 on Friday, 8-5-2 on Saturday, and 7-6-2 on Sunday. Personally, I bet more overs than unders on the weekend, but not as much as I should have. Hopefully others bet more.

* The NHL's second-round schedule for the Western Conference was still waiting to be determined pending Monday night's game 7 between the Dallas Stars and Vancouver Canucks. In the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres are a -195 favorite over the New York Rangers, while the Ottawa Senators are a -140 favorite in their series against the New Jersey Devils, despite not having home-ice advantage and the Devils being a -120 favorite in Thursday's game 1.

* As promised, the Las Vegas Hilton posted NFL over/under season win totals Sunday. Here's a rundown: Patriots (11); Colts and Chargers (10 1/2); Bears (10); Broncos (9 1/2); Ravens, Panthers, Bengals, Cowboys, Saints, Eagles, Steelers, and Seahawks (9); Jaguars (8 1/2); Giants, Jets, and Chiefs (8); Falcons, Packers, Rams, and Redskins (7 1/2); Cardinals, Dolphins, 49ers, Buccaneers, and Titans (7); Texans and Vikings (6 1/2); Bills and Lions (6); Browns (5 1/2); and Raiders (5).

Contests go Hollywood

With the Southern California circuit moving from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park starting Wednesday, the weekly handicapping contests in town will do the same. The Excalibur, which no longer runs its Wednesday contest concurrently with the Edgewater in Laughlin, has a win and quinella contest on the full Hollywood Park card, while the Coast Casinos (Orleans, Gold Coast, Suncoast, and Sam's Town) has a Thursday contest on the first five races at Hollywood while the South Point (formerly part of Coast Casinos but now an independent book) uses the last five races at Hollywood. The Poker Palace, which has a matchup contest from Wednesday through Friday and another on Saturday and Sunday, uses multiple tracks.