Playoff Zig-Zag Theory
April 17, 2017
By Marc Lawrence
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In NBA handicapping circles, Zig Zags are trendy applications that have been profitable moneymakers during the playoffs.
The premise is simple:
‘Play On’ a team off a playoff loss in its very next game
The theory is that in a short series involving imminent elimination, a team in more inclined to bounce back with a good effort off a losing performance than it is to continue its losing ways.
How have these plays held up of late?
You might be surprised.
Here are point-spread results of NBA Playoff Zig Zags from 1991 through 2016.
Game On, Dude
Overall: 855-760-726-38 (52.9%)
Game Two: 209-169-13 (55.3%)
Game Three: 212-172-6 (55.2%)
Game Four: 175-177-170-8 (49.7%)
Game Five: 142-129-7 (52.4%)
Game Six: 85-81-2 (51.2%)
Game Seven: 32-32-2 (50.0%)
The moderate strength of NBA Zig Zags appears to be in Games 3 and 4 where collectively they become a better than 55% point spread proposition on the blind.
Burn Baby Burn
Like all things that are popular, though, they eventually burn out and revert back to the norm.
A combination of the ‘law of averages’ and an adjustment by the odds makers has seen the NBA Zig Zags go up in smoke since 2001.
That’s confirmed by the fact that these plays slipped dramatically the last 16 years (2001-2016), going 544-511-28 – or 51.5% - overall as opposed to a 311-249-10 mark – or 55.5% - in games played from 1991-2000.
That’s a decline of 4 full percentage points. Or in bottom line terms, they have been money burners on the blind the last 15 seasons. That’s what I would call a major buzz kill.
Round ‘Em Up
Here is a breakdown of how the Zig Zags have fared during each round of the NBA Playoffs since 1991:
Round One: 410-365-22 (52.9%)
Round Two: 257-222-7 (53.7%)
Round Three: 125-117-7 (51.7%)
Round Four: 63-56-3 (52.9%)
While it appears Round Two holds a scant edge, it should be noted that home teams off a double-digit loss in Round Two have yielded the largest profits, as they are 86-56-3 (60.5%).
Planting The Seeds
Here is a breakdown of how the Zig Zags have fared by seed during NBA Playoffs:
No. 1 Seeds: 125-111-5 (53.0%)
No. 2 Seeds: 118-99-4 (54.4%)
No. 3 Seeds: 104-90-9 (53.3%)
No. 4 Seeds: 83-81-1 (50.7%)
No. 5 Seeds: 79-75-3 (51.3%)
No. 6 Seeds: 69-60-2 (53.4%)
No. 7 Seeds: 48-68-4 (41.4%)
No. 8 Seeds: 68-49-5 (58.1%)
Note these results are since the 1996 season, when our database first began charting seeds.
Note the disparate results that abound between No. 7 and No. 8 seeds.
Rocky Mountain High
So when is it we can still expect to catch the best possible result when firing up with these with NBA Zig Zags these days, you ask?
Simple. Look to support double-digit underdogs that scored 88 or less points in their last game as they’ve gone 32-13-2 ATS since 1991. That’s a pretty high 71.1% winning percentage when you think about it.
So now instead of zigging when you should be zagging, check out the optimum roles outlined above... and enjoy the games.
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