Zig Zag theory

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The two month odyssey to determine this season’s NBA Champion has begun and as we go to press on Monday eight teams have taken their first steps on this journey by winning their opening games over the weekend.

In fact, the home team won the first seven of the eight games with only Portland, playing the final game of the weekend Sunday night, able to win on the road by winning at Phoenix. The home team, favored in each contest, also covered in as many as six of the eight contests with four of the pointspread results decided by a bucket or less.

Reference was made last week to an approach to handicapping the Playoffs known as the “zig zag” theory. Popularized for many years by the fine folks at the Gold Sheet, the zig zag theory suggests you wager on the team in an NBA Playoff series that lost the previous game. Thus the wagers begin in the second game of series.

Beyond its apparent simplicity lies some fundamental reasons why it’s been successful over the years. First, the losing team is more apt to make some adjustments in the next game to address reasons for the previous loss. And secondly, the public often reacts to what it just saw last, meaning that the public is prone to playing the team that just won to win again.

Of course there’s more to wagering on the individual games than by just using zig zag. It’s a good starting point from which to begin your analysis. But in some of the analysis that follows there will be situations in which ignoring the zig zag theory may be the more appropriate and attractive option.

Here’s a look at the eight opening round series as they stand after game one and thoughts on how you may wish to approach the next several games in each.

The Lakers got off to an early double digit lead over Oklahoma City before the Thunder rallied in the second half to keep the game reasonably competitive in the Lakers’ 87-79 win on Sunday. While they would be playable in Tuesday’s game two they may be even a better play back home in game three, especially if they are trailing 0-2. Even at 1-1 the Thunder would be playing with even greater confidence. The Lakers would be the play in game four, especially if going for the sweep.

Dallas won and covered in their opener against San Antonio in the 2/7 matchup and this series has all the makings of going the distance. It was suggested last week that the winner of this series has an excellent chance to upset the Lakers in the Western finals. Considering the deep and veteran rosters on both teams and the familiarity with each other this series could follow zig zag theory almost perfectly and can be played accordingly.

Denver was impressive in the fourth quarter as they defeated Utah to open their series. Utah suffered another blow as Mehmet Okur was injured and is expected to miss the rest of the Playoffs. He joins Andrei Kirilenko on the sidelines which greatly lessens Utah’s chances of advancing. Still, the opener was competitive through three quarters and Utah was worth a look in Monday’s game two. The Jazz will be worth a play again back home in game three, be they down 0-2 or having evened the series with a win Monday night. The loser of game 3 would be the play in game 4. If the series returns to Denver for a fifth game that would be the ideal spot to play on the Nuggets.

Portland’s win to open their series as Phoenix was especially impressive since the banged up Blazers are playing without star Brandon Roy. Just as impressive is that Portland made the plays in what was a tightly contested game for all four quarters. Phoenix likely gives their best effort in Tuesday’s game two as they seek to draw even. If this occurs the Suns would be playable in game three as they attempt to either regain the home court edge or draw within 2-1 in the series. Should game 4 have Portland in the possible but unlikely spot of going for the sweep the Blazers would be the play. Otherwise Phoenix’s best spot would be back home in game 5.

Cleveland took control early in their opening game against Chicago before seeing the Bulls rally to within single digits in the second half. But the Cavs controlled the end game to win by 13, barely covering the 11.5 point spread. The Cavs were 10 to 11 point favorites to win game two on Monday and likely head to Chicago for Thursday’s game three up 2-0. Normally Chicago would be the play but they would have to be at least 6 point underdogs to have some comfort in backing the Bulls in that spot. Cleveland would be the play in game 4 as they either try to complete the sweep or look to rebound after a game 3 loss. The Cavs would also be a solid play back home if a game 5 is needed.

Atlanta got more than they expected in their 10 point opening win over Milwaukee as they saw the shorthanded Bucks rally from a 22 point halftime deficit to throw a scare into the Hawks. Milwaukee would be playable back home in game three but only as an underdog of at least 3 points. Atlanta shapes up as the play in game 4 as they look to either end the series or regain control but they are best backed if not favored by more than a trey.

Boston won their opening game against Miami but an incident very late in that game resulted in the Celtics being short handed in game two as star Kevin Garnett is serving a suspension. That gives the Heat an excellent chance at evening the series with Boston favored by only a point and a half. Boston’s age remains a concern but thEy still should be worth backing in Miami as underdogs of even just a bucket or two when either even or trailing in the series. If Miami returns home down 0-2 the Heat are worth backing in both games 3 and 4 in a series that now looks as though it will go 6 or 7 games.

Orlando let a comfortable 20 point third quarter lead dissipate which allowed Charlotte to cover game 1 by a half point in the Magic’s 98-89 win. Charlotte was game in defeat but clearly outmatched. They did lead the NBA in scoring defense this season, allowing just under 94 points per game. That makes them capable of covering as a home dog in game 3 if getting at least a couple of buckets. If Orlando is going for a four game sweep the Magic can lay up to 6 points in game 4 to complete the sweep.


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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