Apr 22, 2003 7:20 AM

The start of the NBA playoffs has already seen several surprises, notably Phoenix’s upset of San Antonio in the 1 vs. 8 series.

Last week it was mentioned how the Suns had won 3-of-4 from the Spurs during the regular season, covering all four. Although upsets of top seeded teams are rare, certainly the Spurs have to be concerned after surrendering a sizeable lead in the fourth quarter.

Indiana’s collapse against Boston was even more stunning. The Celtics are the No. 3 seed in the East and more than capable of knocking off the Pacers, who have been inconsistent over the second half of the season. Boston had a better record than Indiana the second half of the year, so an upset here would not be a shock.

The two best East teams over the second half, Philadelphia and New Orleans, are opponents in the opening round. The 76ers won Game 1 at home but the Hornets were competitive throughout, leading a good part of the contest. It would not be a surprise if the winner of this series represents the conference in the NBA Finals.

New Jersey was impressive in its opening game win over erratic Milwaukee. The defending East champs may be the best-balanced team. The Nets have a good chance at again making the NBA finals at the No. 2 seed.

Orlando was another upset winner in their first game, defeating top seed Detroit. Despite being seeded eighth, the Magic had an identical record to Detroit over the last half of the season. An upset here is certainly imaginable.

The Lakers were impressive in winning their opener at Minnesota and have to again be considered the team to beat as they seek a fourth straight NBA title. Sacramento had a tougher than expected battle from Utah in Game 1, while Dallas had to overcome a halftime deficit to defeat Portland.

The "zig-zag" theory mentioned last week would have you bet the loser of the previous game in the next outing. Of course when a favored team loses at home in Game 1, there is usually and additional point or so added to the line in Game 2. Thus you will be paying a premium to back Indiana, San Antonio and Detroit in the second game.

Should any of the favorites take a 2-0 lead on the road, the play in Game 3 would be on the home team provided the spread is no more than 3. In some cases, such as with Utah, we may even get to play a home underdog trailing 2-0 in the series.

Despite seeing the OVER go 6-2 in the first eight playoff games, the UNDER is still preferred. The Milwaukee/New Jersey series in the East and Minnesota/Lakers out West are the most likely to have more OVER results than UNDER when those series conclude.