This season’s Boston Celtics recorded the largest one-year improvement in NBA history (24-58 to 66-16), but they are longshots to win what counts most – the league’s championship.

Oddsmakers have established Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers as heavy favourites over the Celts in the NBA final, which opens Thursday night.

The Lakers are $1.95 favourites, meaning wagerers who take them must lay that much to win a dollar. If the Celts prevail, bettors would collect $1.65 for every dollar they place on them.


My hunch: Boston with the upset in seven games (with a reminder that I’m sometimes wrong). . .Oddsmakers have established Bryant as the series’ MVP favourite, at 2.25-to-1. Then come the Celts’ Kevin Garnett at +2.25-to-1 and Paul Pierce at +4.75-to-1. . .After last season, before they acquired Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celts were 300-to-1 underdogs to capture this year’s championship. . .Oddsmakers also have issued this highly unusual prop bet: Will Charles Barkley be spotted on a casino gaming floor before the start of the 2008-2009 season? Payouts are +1.75 for a yes and -3.75 for a no. The ex-NBA-star-turned-analyst, who recently paid off a gambling debt of about $400,000, has vowed on national TV that he’d refrain from gambling for at least a year.

In baseball, sources are telling us the Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners are bidding for catcher/first baseman Scott Hatteberg, released last week by the Cincinnati Reds. . .The Chicago Cubs have won only one road series this season, yet they occupied first place heading into June for only the first time since 1908. . .The first-place Tampa Bay Rays are for real but they still rank dead-last in AL attendance. . .From the New York Daily News: The Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez “must have been so bummed” after a recent loss that, during a post-game meal at Hooters in Baltimore, he dismissed a young fan who wanted his autograph. "Excuse me, Mr. Rodriguez, may I please have your autograph?" the excited 10-year-old asked him. Rodriguez’s response: "Beat it." He had two different words for the chesty waitress he bumped into as he left. "Nice ass."

And these sure have been wonderful days for Chris Osgood, eh?

Besides starting and starring in the post-season for the Detroit Red Wings, the veteran goaltender learned from that actress Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) has had a crush on him since childhood and used to pretend they were married.

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