Bulls, Thunder provide profitable look at playoffs


Photo by Fernando Medina/Contributor | MVP candidate Derrick Rose will lead the Bulls to the Eastern Conference crown.

It’s the second Monday in April, the day after one of the most riveting Masters finishes in recent memory and the day baseball’s home run king (and most controversial player ever) saw his perjury case (and possible freedom) put in the hands of a jury. Additionally, the baseball season is in full swing, the NBA and NHL playoffs are just days away from starting, and the NFL Draft is right around the corner (as is the unemployment line for all the draftees, what with the NFL lockout still in effect).

Pretty busy time in the sports world, right? So what’s the lead story on the world’s most prominent sports-related website on this particular day? Of course, the WNBA Draft!

Really? All that’s going on and you’re trying to force-feed me women’s basketball—and not even a game, but the draft? Yeah, because I couldn’t have gotten through the day without knowing that the Minnesota Lynx used the first overall pick on supposedly the best women’s player ever. (I say supposedly because, well, how the hell would I know? Seriously, evaluating women’s basketball players must be like judging a cheap wine contest. “Here’s a glass. Now taste these 200 different crappy varietals and tell us which one’s the best!”)

Then again, maybe I need to change my tune. With labor strife jeopardizing the upcoming NFL season and a lockout almost certainly delaying the next NBA campaign, I might have nothing left to handicap but women’s basketball. (Speaking of cheap wine, I’m going to need to stock up if that becomes reality!)

Before I get more depressed, let’s move on to this week’s action as I try to rebound from a disappointing week in which I went 2-5 with NBA selections, losing $125 and dropping the bankroll to $7,636. With the NBA’s second season set to tip off April 16, let’s break out the crystal ball and see if I can turn a few hundred bucks into a couple of thousand with some futures wagers. Remember: Futures odds vary greatly, so shop around for the best possible value.

$400 (to win $600) on Bulls (+150) to win the Eastern Conference: All the Bulls did during a 44-game stretch from Jan. 8 through April 10 was post a 36-8 record, going 26-4 after Feb. 9. You know how many losses they had in their first 40 home games? Five, including just two after Dec. 21. You know what Chicago’s record was against the four other top teams in the Eastern Conference (Miami, Boston, Orlando and Atlanta)? 10-4, including 10-1 after Jan. 1.

Given all that, and the fact that Chicago has home-court advantage for as long as it stays alive, I don’t see how any opponent is going to beat the Bulls four times in a seven-game series. So while I normally don’t recommend favorites with futures wagers, I’m making the exception here (besides, the Bulls aren’t even the odds-on favorite; in some spots, they’re behind Miami and even Boston).

My only wish: That I could find someone to give me 100-to-1 odds on Michael Jordan unretiring and suiting up for the Bulls before the playoffs end (you just know seeing his old team gelling into a championship contender is killing Mike, whose ego is the size of Montana and who believes he can still play).

$100 (to win $700) on Thunder (7-to-1) to win the Western Conference: Last year, Oklahoma City gave the eventual champion Lakers a big scare in the second round of the playoffs, losing in six games (and coming within a tip-in at the buzzer of forcing a decisive Game 7). Now the confident, young Thunder are a year older (in a good way) while the veteran Lakers and Spurs are a year older (in a bad way).

And when you look at Oklahoma City’s roster, you’ll see all the ingredients for a deep playoff run. They have a superstar who can score at will (Kevin Durant); a gifted point guard who can beat teams inside and out, get his teammates involved and protect the basketball (Russell Westbrook); a solid, physical post player (Kendrick Perkins, recently acquired from the Celtics); a strong bench; and the ability to drain free throws (league-best 82 percent).

Oh, sure, Commissioner David Stern probably wakes up in a cold sweat every night at the thought of a team from Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals. But you know what I say to that? Good, it’s about time he pays for green-lighting the WNBA!

BEST OF THE REST (odds unknown at press time): $100 – Bulls to sweep the Pacers in their first-round series (Chicago won three of four from Indiana in the regular season and had eight winning streaks of four games or more); $100 – Nuggets to win their first-round playoff series (against any team other than the Thunder); $50 – Trail Blazers over Mavericks in the first round (if they meet); $50 – Knicks over Celtics in their first-round series (Boston is just 8-10 in its last 18 games).

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