No Heat repeat

Oct 31, 2006 6:22 AM

Excuse the Las Vegas books if the start of the NBA season isn’t met with extreme interest.

"There’s so much going on in sports right now that it has really snuck up on us," said Eddie Ricca, sports book director at the Suncoast. "You caught me offguard a bit as to picking this year’s champion. I’ll wait a little bit to see what develops."

No doubt the NBA will have bettors, they always do. But, the volume will be challenged by the World Series, NFL and college football along with this weekend’s Super Bowl of thoroughbred racing, the Breeders’ Cup.

When we left the NBA last June, D-Wade, Shaq, Coach Riley and rest of the merry Miami Heat were celebrating their first league title. Teams of recent NBA vintage usually repeat (Lakers, Pistons, Spurs, Rockets), so the opportunity and trend is there for Miami. The question is if that hunger remains?

"I don’t think so," said Mark Dufty, race and sports book manager at Jerry Nugget. "Shaq (O’Neal) is still the most dominant center when he’s playing and (Dwyane) Wade is the most versatile talent in the NBA. Last year, they put it together at the right time. They won’t do it again this year."

The Plaza’s Mike Colbert agrees, suggesting that the Bulls and Mavericks will wind up in the NBA Finals with Dallas prevailing.

"I think Dallas learned a lot from last year’s Final," Colbert said. "No way Miami repeats. They’re old and carrying too much mileage on their legs. Wade is definitely good, I see Chicago and Cleveland as the best out of the East."

Caesars Palace lists Phoenix, a third champion possibility, as the 4-1 favorite to win the title. There are major expectations in the Valley of the Sun with two-time league MVP Steve Nash shedding the mullet during preseason play, Boris Diaw inking a new five-year contract and manchild Amare Stoudamire returning from a second serious knee operation in three years.

"I like the Suns to reach the Western Finals," Colbert said. "But I think Dallas has a little more."

The Cavaliers with arguably the NBA’s hottest talent in LeBron James, could be the best futures bet at 6-1. Sure, the price is low, but the Cavs should have the pieces together to make a run in the East.

The most intriguing story, at least in the beginning, should be the Bulls and how Ben Wallace fits into the system after bringing several NBA titles to Detroit as the league’s top defensive player and rebounder.

"Chicago is definitely the team to look for," Colbert said. "Wallace was the big pickup in the offseason and I think all of us out here in Vegas are interested in what lines the Bulls draw."

And then, of course, there is San Antonio.

"The Spurs are the deepest team in the NBA and Tim Duncan is healthier than he has been for years," Dufty said. "I think San Antonio will come back with a vengeance. They’re sights are set on a championship."

The Spurs probably own the swiftest and most athletic international backcourt in the world with point guard Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Spain). San Antonio is just behind Phoenix at 9-2 in the Caesars book.

Here’s a snapshot of the entire league in order of finish last year, noting that we don’t look at preseason games and that injuries can easily alter our opinions.

ATLANTIC: Nets (15-1), Sixers (60-1), Celtics (50-1), Raptors (125-1), Knicks (125-1). The balance of power is tilted strongly to New Jersey. If Carter, Jefferson and Kidd stay healthy, there’s no reason to think Jersey will be pushed. Sleeper: Boston.

CENTRAL: Pistons (8-1), Cavs (6-1), Pacers (6-1), Bulls (5-1), Bucks (60-1). The Bulls have the most talent, Cleveland has LeBron and Michael Redd will never get the cred he deserves outside Milwaukee. Detroit takes a step back without Wallace.

SOUTHEAST: Heat (9-2), Wizards (40-1), Magic (45-1), Hawks (200-1), Bobcats (250-1): Miami is built for the playoffs. Orlando’s Dwight Howard is the next great NBA star. Morrison and Okefor make Charlotte a good ”˜cover’ team as a dog.

PACIFIC: Suns (4-1), Clippers (18-1), Lakers (12-1), Kings (18-1), Warriors (70-1). Phoenix remains the league most exciting team, but it comes down to Amare’s health and if a semblance of defense emerges in the paint. Kings could struggle early.

SOUTHWEST: Spurs (9-2), Mavs (5-1), Grizzlies (35-1), Hornets (60-1), Rockets (18-1). Houston bares watching, but unless Yao gets physical it will be Dallas and San Antonio taking the NBA’s best rivalry to new heights this season.

NORTHWEST: Nuggets (22-1), Jazz (40-1), Sonics (70-1), T’volves (60-1), T’blazers (250-1).Looks like Melo has taken his game to another level in Denver. Kirilinko (AK-47) must stay healthy for Jazz. KG needs to see Garnett on a new uniform.

Early predictions: Bulls over Nets in East; Suns over Spurs in the West; Suns win NBA championship.

"I like the Suns to reach the Western Finals," Colbert said. "But I think Dallas has a little more."

The Cavaliers with arguably the NBA’s hottest talent in LeBron James, could be the best futures bet at 6-1. Sure, the price is low, but the Cavs should have the pieces together to make a run in the East.

The most intriguing story, at least in the beginning, should be the Bulls and how Ben Wallace fits into the system after bringing several NBA titles to Detroit as the league’s top defensive player and rebounder.

"Chicago is definitely the team to look for," Colbert said. "Wallace was the big pickup in the offseason and I think all of us out here in Vegas are interested in what lines the Bulls draw."

And then, of course, there is San Antonio.

"The Spurs are the deepest team in the NBA and Tim Duncan is healthier than he has been for years," Dufty said. "I think San Antonio will come back with a vengeance. They’re sights are set on a championship."

The Spurs probably own the swiftest and most athletic international backcourt in the world with point guard Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Spain). San Antonio is just behind Phoenix at 9-2 in the Caesars book.

Here’s a snapshot of the entire league in order of finish last year, noting that we don’t look at preseason games and that injuries can easily alter our opinions.

ATLANTIC: Nets (15-1), 76ers (60-1), Celtics (50-1), Raptors (125-1), Knicks (125-1). Balance of power is tilted strongly to New Jersey. If Carter, Jefferson and Kidd stay healthy, there’s no reason to think Jersey will be pushed. Sleeper: Boston.

CENTRAL: Pistons (8-1), Cavs (6-1), Pacers (6-1), Bulls (5-1), Bucks (60-1). The Bulls have the most talent, Cleveland has LeBron and Michael Redd will never get the credit he deserves outside Milwaukee. Detroit takes a step back without Wallace.

SOUTHEAST: Heat (9-2), Wizards (40-1), Magic (45-1), Hawks (200-1), Bobcats (250-1): Miami is built for the playoffs. Orlando’s Dwight Howard is the next great NBA star. Morrison and Okefor make Charlotte a good ”˜cover’ team as a dog.

PACIFIC: Suns (4-1), LA Clips (18-1), Lakers (12-1), Kings (18-1), Warriors (70-1). Phoenix remains the league most exciting team, but it comes down to Amare’s health and if a semblance of defense emerges in the paint. Kings could struggle early.

SOUTHWEST: Spurs (9-2), Mavericks (5-1), Grizzlies (35-1), Hornets (60-1), Rockets (18-1). Houston bares watching, but unless Yao gets physical it will be Dallas and San Antonio taking the NBA’s best rivalry to new heights.

NORTHWEST: Nuggets (22-1), Jazz (40-1), Sonics (70-1), T’wolves (60-1), Blazers (250-1). Looks like Melo has taken his game to another level in Denver. Andrei Kirilinko (AK-47) must stay healthy for Jazz. KG needs to see Garnett on a new uniform.

Early predictions: Bulls over Nets in East; Suns over Spurs in the West; Suns win their first NBA championship.