Series is an even one

With an NBA Finals match-up of San Antonio and Detroit, much of the country will be sleeping through what should be a television ratings nightmare. Since there is no Shaquille O'Neal, no Los Angeles Lakers and really nothing terribly interesting to look forward to in this series, many people on the East Coast aren't going to stay up until midnight to finish watching it.

But loyal NBA fans will be watching it, and actually they couldn't have asked for a better, evenly-matched series. Definitely these are the two best teams this season, with the only two active title-winning coaches. Defense does win championships in the NBA, and here we have the two best D's the league has to offer.

Also, it is refreshing to see two unselfish teams in the Finals, with no superstars dominating the headlines. It is that good attitude that helped these franchises capture the last two World Championships in the first place. These "teams" truly deserve to be where they are.

Predictions: Considering how even these clubs appear to be, and how severely underestimated Detroit was last year, the defending champion Pistons should not be the 2-to-1 underdog that they are. Nevertheless, the pick still is San Antonio because of its superior depth and class, its seven days of rest as opposed to Detroit's two, and home court advantage. The Spurs win it at home in Game 7.

When betting on the Over/Under line, looking at the regular season meetings can give people an idea of what these teams are capable of scoring. On Dec. 3, San Antonio won a slugfest at home 80-77. On March 20, in a game in which the Spurs' Tim Duncan sprained his ankle and scored two points, and injured Piston Richard Hamilton totaled only 11, Detroit strangely enough won at home 110-101. That's a huge difference. But with the league's two best defenses statistically, the logical move is to bet on the Under, with Over games possibly occurring in Detroit.

• Tomorrow afternoon the third and final jewel in horse racing's Triple Crown, the 137th running of the Belmont Stakes, takes place at Belmont Park in New York. Eleven horses are scheduled to race once around the track's huge one-and-a-half mile oval known for its wide, sweeping turns. Sadly, for the first time in four years and only the third time in nine years, there will be no Triple Crown championship at stake.

Winner - Afleet Alex. In the Preakness Stakes when Scrappy T was whipped right into Afleet Alex's path, there was great potential for disaster. Alex clipped Scrappy's heels, was forced to his knees, and had jockey Jeremy Rose holding onto his mane for dear life. Amazingly, Alex not only recovered, but he won the race by almost five lengths! Throw in the fact that part of his winnings are being donated to children's cancer treatment in honor of that little girl who started Alex's Lemonade Stand and died last year, that horse should win again.

Place - Giacomo. In the Preakness, every one of Giacomo's moves was blocked, so he should be closer than nine lengths back this time around.

• Sunday the Arena Football League crowns a new champion in Arena Bowl XIX. The Georgia Force meet the Colorado Crush, part-owned by John Elway, in of all places, Las Vegas. It is good to see that the AFL has started to use neutral sites for its title games, and that professional sports can be wagered on and played in Nevada without people suspecting some kind of fix. No prediction.

• Thursday begins golf's second major, the U.S. Open, at Pinehurst, N.C. Predicting the winner of a golf tournament involves a lot of luck, but since South African Retief Goosen won last year, odds are an American will come out on top this time. Who will that be? Who knows? But handicappers usually get a better return betting on player head-to-head match-ups than the actual winner of the tournament. Match-ups are not out yet.


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