Best bets for NBA first round 

April, 27, 2012

LAS VEGAS -- This city has all the celebrity chefs -- Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse, Joel Robuchon, Bobby Flay -- but none of them could have come up with a better recipe for success than NBA commissioner David Stern did this season.

Put your sport on the backburner and build everyone's appetite, then bring the fans' interest to a boil until they're willing to gorge themselves on full menus just about every night.

There was a lot of uncertainty about how the shortened NBA season would work out when I did my season preview with Jimmy Vaccaro of Lucky's Race & Sports Books back in December, so I caught up with the legendary bookmaker to see how the season unfolded from the sports books' point of view.

"David Stern won't listen to me, but I would vote to stick with a 66-game schedule," Vaccaro said. "I don't have the TV ratings, but the numbers from our point of view were great."

For the most part, the season played out as expected. The top seven teams in the future book in that season-preview column were the Heat, Lakers, Bulls, Thunder, Mavericks, Clippers and Knicks. When we did an update at the All-Star break, the order was Heat, Bulls, Thunder, Spurs, Lakers, Clippers and the Mavericks and Knicks tied for No. 7. Lo and behold, the top seven teams at Lucky's right now are the Heat at 17-10, Spurs at 7-2, Bulls and Thunder both 4-1, Lakers at 13-1, Celtics at 18-1, and Grizzlies at 24-1 (see the chart below for complete odds).

Vaccaro said the futures are in good shape for Vegas bookmakers.

"Like everyone else, we took a lot of bets with the Clippers' trade for Chris Paul and all that 'Linsanity' out of New York, but we got enough action on other teams to limit any risk," he said. "When the Lakers win the title, books here usually lose, but this year it's just a push, and we even have a small win on the Heat because we also got a lot of action on the Spurs and the Celtics when they surged."

Let's take a look at the opening-round series with Vaccaro's help and try to find some winning wagers either in the individual game or the series prices:

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Chicago Bulls (minus-1600) versus No. 8 Philadelphia 76ers (plus-1100)

Vaccaro: "Derrick Rose has been hurt a lot, but this wasn't a Peyton Manning-type situation for bookmakers. The Bulls played great without him, so this series price would be about the same whether or not he plays. It was great for us when he was out this season as we'd move the line 2.5 to 3 points on the power ratings, but people were still betting against the Bulls after the adjustments. Another reason this is so high is that the 76ers spit the bit down the stretch."

Dave Tuley

ESPN Staff Writer
Dave Tuley has covered the Las Vegas race and sports book scene since 1998 and runs his own website,