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LeBron James
Odds and Ends

NBA Playoff Betting: Zig-Zag Theory

by Covers.com
Updated On: April 7, 2020, 2:53 pm ET

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 is more inclined to bounce back with a good effort off a losing performance than it is to continue it's 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 2015.

Game On, Dude

Overall: 819-726-38• 53.0%

Game Two: 204-159-13 • 56.2%

Game Three: 201-168-8• 54.5%

Game Four: 167-170-8 • 49.6%

Game Five: 135-124-7• 52.1%

Game Six: 79-70-2 • 51.6%

Game Seven: 30-27-2 • 52.5%

The strength of NBA Zig Zags appears to be in Game Three where they become a better than 56% point spread play 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 oddsmakers has seen the NBA Zig Zags go up in smoke since 2001.  

That’s confirmed by the fact that these plays slipped dramatically (2001-2015), going 508-477-28 – or 51.6% - overall as opposed to a 311-249-10 mark – or 55.5% - in games played from 1991-2000.

That’s a decline of nearly 4 full percentage points. Or in bottom-line terms, they have been money burners on the blind the last 15 seasons. Talk about a buzz kill.

Round 'Em Up

Here is a breakdown of how the Zig Zags have fared during each round of the NBA Playoffs from 1991 through 2015:

Round One: 393-346-22 • 53.2%

Round Two: 204-159-13 • 56.2%

Round Three: 120-111-6 • 51.9%

Round Four: 60-53-3 • 53.1%

While it appears Round Two holds a discernable edge, it should be noted that home teams off a double-digit loss in Round Two have yielded the largest profits, as they are 83-54-3 (60.6%).

Planting The Seeds

Here is a breakdown of how the Zig Zags have fared by seed during NBA Playoffs:

No. 1 Seeds: 117-106-5 • 52.5%

No. 2 Seeds: 113-92-4 • 55.1%

No. 3 Seeds: 97-85-9 • 53.3%

No. 4 Seeds: 80-76-1• 51.3%

No. 5 Seeds: 75-71-3• 51.4%

No. 6 Seeds: 81-76-2-2• 51.6%

No. 7 Seeds: 44-65-4• 40.4%

No. 8 Seeds: 66-46-5 • 59.0%

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 when they are off a SU and ATS loss.  They’ve stood the test of time, going 35-19-2 ATS from 1991 through 2015.  That’s a pretty high 64.8% winning percentage when you think about it.

So instead of zigging when you should be zagging, check out the optimum roles outlined above... and enjoy the games.