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To Zig or not to Zig (or is it zag)!
by Larry Ness - 04/25/2005
It's NBA playoff time and we've all heard about the infamous Zig-Zag Theory. I arrived in Las Vegas for the first time in September of 1982 and in the spring of 1983 I was introduced to the Zig-Zag Theory by one of my fellow sports book junkies.
Now I'm not your typical sports gambler/handicapper. I'm the grandson of a minister and the son of an FBI agent. That's not exactly the perfect introduction into the profession I've chosen over the last 21 years but at least my dad did teach me that if something looks to good or sounds too easy....BE CAREFUL!
Any time someone approaches me with the words "all you have to do", I get nervous. There are no 'sure' things in this racket. Although I must admit that a certain ex-girlfriend did teach me that in life, some things are a 'lock'. I learned the hard way that every time she began answering my question with a question, "Do you really want to know?", it was a 'LOCK', I DIDN'T WANT TO KNOW! Anyway, I digress.
Getting back to the Zig-Zag Theory, it is simply based on a very basic 'revenge' motive. The SU loser of one game in a playoff series will likely play with much more intensity in the next game. So all you have to do (there's that fateful phrase again) is play 'on' the SU loser of a game in their very next game. It makes sense and it's not tough to remember.
However, over the years this theory became so well-known that everyone was touting it and of course linemakers are NOT stupid people. What happened is that teams that lost a Game 1 of their series by 18 points (while getting nine) didn't get nine or even 10 points in the next game but rather eight or even less! A team that lost outright as a favorite, was often even a bigger favorite in their next game. This made things tough.
Still, the Zig-Zag Theory has been a 'winner' over the last 21 years. According to the Gold Sheet, despite a losing ATS mark in the 2004 playoffs (32-33-2), just playing the SU loser of the previous game in the following game, has produced a 655-537-22 ATS mark. Figuring in juice, that gives you a net of 64.3 games. However, if you divide that by 21 years, you come out at just slightly over plus-three games per year! That hardly seems like much.
A closer look shows it works best in the first round series (301-225-5 ATS over 21 years). Since the first round was expanded to a seven-game format the last two postseasons, an interesting trend has developed. First-round home favorites in the zig-zag mode have gone 15-8-1 ATS with first-round teams in other point spread roles going just 23-25 ATS. As for me, I'll surely look first at the team coming off a loss but see no reason to play them BLINDLY! There are just too many other factors that need to be considered.
I mentioned in my last article that home favorites did very well in last year's opening round, going 19-8 ATS. They started this year in 'style' also, going 6-2 ATS over the weekend. The two road underdogs that covered, Houston and Denver, also won SU. Those first-game wins puts history on the side of both the Rockets and the Nuggets.
Since the playoffs were expanded to its current 16-team format, teams that win the first game have held a huge advantage in these first round series, winning 83.9 percent of the time. Winning Game 1 has proved to be a bigger edge than having home-court advantage. Those teams have won only 76.8 percent of their first-round series.
Last year, all eight first-game winners went on to take their respective series. However, all eight first-game winners last year were home teams. Two years ago (the first-time the NBA used a best-of-seven format for its opening round), there were two first-game winners that failed to take their series. The Orlando Magic opened with a 99-94 win at Detroit in Game 1 but despite taking a 3-to-1 lead in the series, lost in seven games. Also that year, the Suns upset the Spurs in OT in Game 1 of their series in San Antonio but wound up losing in six games.
What's in store this year? We're just getting started.