by Robert Ferringo - 05/30/2006
Usually when someone is talking about Zig-Zags and the National Basketball Association it's in reference to a party at Damon Stoudamire's crib or a night on the town with Charles Oakley. But when it comes to gambling, the Zig-Zag Theory has nothing to do with Reefer Madness and everything to do with the NBA playoffs.
Simply put, the Zig-Zag Theory states that in the playoffs you should bet on the team that lost the previous game in a series. For instance, after Miami won Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals the zig-zaggers would have been all over Detroit in Game 2. In the opening two rounds of the playoffs, backing the revenge team paid off at a 32-25-2 clip against the spread.
Much like Cabala, Stonehenge, or Twinkies, the Zig-Zag Theory is an ancient and mystical concept. No one can be certain of its founder or origin, but one thing about it is very clear: it pays. According to Internet reports, over the previous 37 years the Zig-Zag Theory has posted a 692-568-22 playoff record. For dime bettors you're talking about $114,108 in after-juice, non-adjusted earnings over that time frame. That's over $3,000 a year without considering inflation.
The logic behind this betting pattern is straightforward. After a playoff loss, teams seem to slide into Desperation Mode. Chalk it up to the human instinct for self-preservation. After a team loses they tend to ramp up the intensity in the following meeting. Comparatively, after a team wins a game there may be a subconscious tendency to let up just a bit. There is a general feeling of self-satisfaction and relief that comes with victory, and that bit of complacency may carry over into the next game.
Think of how many times you see Team A win a game on the road, and then get creamed two nights later on the same court. The reasons are clear. Team A has achieved its goal of winning a game on the opponent's court, while Team B instantly shifts into Do-or-Die mode and understands that it can't lose back-to-back contests in its own house.
So how should this be applied to the currents match-ups between the Sun-Mavericks and Pistons-Heat, or in the NBA Finals? Well, that's the issue with the Theory. It seems to wear down the deeper we get into the playoffs.
The Zig-Zag is just 3-2 straight-up and a disastrous 1-4 ATS thus far in the conference finals. That inconsistency late in the postseason is a reflection of a larger trend concerning the Theory. In the nine years prior to 2006 the zig-zaggers were only 64-57-5 ATS in the conference and NBA Finals.
The next question is obvious: is Brittany Spears' baby really lucky because he gets to feast on that rack, or really unlucky because she'll probably let him drown in the tub? But after that brain-buster, the key question is why does the Zig-Zag Theory falter the deeper it gets into the playoffs (much like Rick Adelman or Karl Malone)?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that you are left with the top teams and the best players, who are generally comprised of more steady and reliable veterans and less prone to large spikes in play. Or perhaps it's the fact that in the conference and league finals everyone is aware of how important each game is so there's less of a chance for a letdown.
But there is another reason why it may begin to falter in the late rounds: Big Brother Books.
The Zig-Zag Theory is no secret. Big Brother Books is aware of the betting strategy and will be shading the lines to accommodate this long-standing precept. Ask any oddsmakers and he'll flat-out admit to it.
To start the playoffs, the Zig-Zag started out a scorching 19-8-2 in the first round. The Books adjusted and the Theory went into a 0-8 tailspin. Not a coincidence. In the second round the same thing happened - a sweet 10-4 start on the zag followed by a freezing 1-5. That's 11-9 in the second round, and those numbers include the 6-0 run that occurred in the seven-game set between the Clippers and the Suns.
Still not convinced that The Books may be on to you? Check out the second game of both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. After Miami won Game 1 in the East, they were posted as six-point dogs in Game 2. They snuck in the backdoor to lose by four. Out West, after Phoenix won the opener in Dallas, the Suns were listed as eight-point dogs in Game 2. They lost by seven. That's two kick-in-the-face losses by less than a basket.
The ATS methodology may be flawed at this stage of the playoffs, but the reasoning is still solid. While not all NBA players are burnouts and potheads, they are all emotional animals. They get desperate. Like that one friend you have that hasn't been laid in like a year, then gets completely hammered and takes home Fat Anna from Double Vision. You should know that desperate people are capable of just about anything.
The other, possibly more useful, lesson to be learned is that as the Zig-Zag Theory is there is no sure-fire, catch-all, no-brainer system or scheme that will guarantee you a profit. Trust me, I've looked. But if I find one you'll be the first to know.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's NBA picks service.