As NBA season begins, bookies see numbers game

LAS VEGAS (AP) Before the last NBA season, Jeff Sherman thought the Philadelphia 76ers would be so bad they wouldn't win 17 games.

The 76ers surprised early, beating the Miami Heat and winning a string of games. They returned to form after that, but still managed to eke out 19 wins.

So what did Sherman do this time around? Penciled them in at the Westgate Las Vegas sports book even lower - with a projected total of 15 and a half wins.

''It's a very similar team to last year,'' Sherman said. ''There's no reason to think things will turn out differently.''

Even the most optimistic Philadelphia fans aren't crashing the betting windows at the Westgate to back their team at the lowest win total Sherman can remember posting in years. That the 76ers will be a bad team is pretty much a given, despite their strong start last year.

Still, anyone wondering how the NBA season that begins Tuesday will end up can get a pretty good idea by looking at win totals posted in this gambling city's sports books.

Like the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James? So do the books, which make the over/under win total for the Cavs at 58 games, the most of any team on the board at the Westgate. Just behind are the defending champion San Antonio Spurs at 57, followed by the Los Angeles Clippers at 56.

The win total for the other Los Angeles team, meanwhile, headed downward the more the Lakers played in preseason. Sherman said he first posted the Lakers total at 31 and a half games, but has dropped it several times as money from the so-called ''wise guys'' came in on the under.

The Lakers will open the season with a projected win total of 29 games, just two more than they won last year with Kobe Bryant injured much of the season. The 36-year-old Bryant is back, but the aging superstar isn't expected to win a lot of games for Los Angeles.

''They just look like they're going to have a tough time in the West,'' Sherman said. ''The way we view Kobe (Bryant) now with the type of injury he had and the time missed that his game is different than what it was. There's no question some of his abilities have been diminished by injuries and age. Plus they're going to have a lot of issues on defense when playing young, quick teams.''

Betting on win totals is popular in legal sports books, though the limits are not generally high. Sherman said the Westgate takes up to $1,000 on the over/under totals, which are taken off the board once the season opens.

While the Lakers are dropping because of Bryant, the Heat fell more than any team in projected win totals this season from last. With James, the Heat were projected to win 60 and a half games last year, though they came up short with just 54 wins.

This season they're on the board with a win total of 44 games - barely above breaking even in an 82-game schedule.

The new-look Heat are also at 40-1 to win the NBA title, a far cry from the 2-1 odds Miami had at the beginning of last season. At the Westgate, bettors like the Cavaliers at 5-2 to win the title, followed by the Spurs at 3-1.

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