Dissecting the NBA Zig-Zag theory: Betting playoff teams off a loss

Marc Lawrence
Long before the Gold Sheet first called out the premise, Zig-Zags were primarily recognized as popular rolling papers for those who enjoy their smoke of choice. 

In NBA handicapping circles, Zig-Zags are trendy applications that have been profitable moneymakers during the playoffs. The premise is simple: Bet on the team coming off a loss.

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 its losing ways. 

How have these plays held up of late? You might be surprised. 

Here are pointspread results of NBA Playoff Zig-Zags from 1991 through 2012:

Overall: 708-628-36 ATS • 52.9 percent
Game 2: 174-144-13 ATS • 54.7 percent
Game 3: 181-143-6 ATS • 55.8 percent
Game 4: 133-124-6 ATS • 51.1 percent
Game 5: 93-100-6 ATS • 48.1 percent
Game 6: 67-61-2 ATS • 52.3 percent
Game 7: 27-22-2 ATS • 55.1 percent
The strength of NBA Zig-Zag theory appears to be in Game 3, where teams off a loss become a near 56 percent pointspread win on the blind. That’s especially true for home teams that were limited to 75 or fewer points in Game 2, going 14-4 ATS in these contests.

Like all things 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 Zag theory go up in smoke since 2001. 

That’s confirmed by the fact that these plays slipped dramatically the last 12 years (2001-2012), going 397-379-26 – or 51.1 percent - overall as opposed to a 311-249-10 mark – or 55.5 percent - in games played from 1991-2000.

Round-by-Round Zig-Zag results

Round 1: 334-293-29 ATS • 53.2 percent
Round 2: 216-188-7 ATS • 53.4 percent
Round 3: 104-101-6 ATS • 50.7 percent
Round 4: 52-46-3 ATS • 53.0 percent

While it appears there is no discernable edge between rounds, it’s interesting to note that the largest profits are derived by home teams in Round 2. They’re posting a 117-99-4 ATS mark, including 71-45-3 ATS when playing off a double-digit defeat.

Zig-Zag by seed

Results are since the 1996 season. 

No. 1 Seeds: 93-90-5 ATS • 50.8 percent
No. 2 Seeds: 93-77-3 ATS • 54.7 percent
No. 3 Seeds: 81-71-9 ATS • 53.2 percent
No. 4 Seeds: 74-64-1 ATS • 53.6 percent
No. 5 Seeds: 62-57-2 ATS • 52.1 percent
No. 6 Seeds: 50-50-2 ATS • 50.0 percent
No. 7 Seeds: 38-53-3 ATS • 41.7 percent
No. 8 Seeds: 54-39-5 ATS • 58.0 percent

Disparate results abound between No. 7 and No. 8 seeds. 

Digging deeper, No. 7s are an unlucky 3-13-1 ATS as dogs of nine or more points, while No.8s are 12-3 ATS as a pick’em or favorite.

So then where is it that bettors can expect to catch the best value possible with NBA Zig-Zags these days?

Double-digit dogs are 41-22-1 ATS - 65.2 percent - and favorites of 4.5 or more point off a loss of 20 or more are 29-8 ATS • 78.3 percent.

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Posted by letsgetmuney
3 years ago

They want you to bet lakers and rockets.... Take spurs

Posted by yaz
3 years ago

Good to know.
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Top Response

Posted by letsgetmuney
3 years ago

"They want you to bet lakers and rockets.... Take spurs"