2021 NBA Playoff Action: Zig-Zag Theory Informs Two 1st Round Picks Thursday
Lining up with Zig-Zag Theory: backing Lakers -7 and Trail Blazers -4
Typically, about this time of year, we dust off our Zig-Zag Theory playbook, as much for kicks as for guidance capping NBA post-season action (as, rather than popular narratives, our picks are driven largely by empirical data...but life is short; have some fun too).
The Zig-Zag Theory is off to a trying start through 16 playoff games (6-10 ATS). However, we see scope for better days to come just ahead, and are aligning with Tony Salunas' oft-cited heuristic for two picks Thursday.
The Zig-Zag Theory says back the home team in playoff series openers, as away teams tend to throw in the towel in game 1's when the going gets tough (road teams in this spot are generally playing for a split, under the best case scenario, and are thus disinclined to jeopardize chances for stealing the next game by emptying the tank in pursuit of an unlikely game 1 outcome).
But the data does not support Salinas' thinking, as squads in this position have not covered at a significantly higher rate than breakeven in the past:
Teams opening post-season series in their own building are 124-108-1 ATS (53%) since 2004, but 2-6 in game 1's so far this year.
Bettors should back the straight up loser of game 1 to beat the number in the next contest, per the theory. An attending rationale is that either a home team off a loss will summon extra motivation to avoid falling too far behind in the series, or a road team off a win feels accomplished after capturing the split, and relaxes a tad.
Here too though, we observe no empirical data consistent with this guidance:
The Zig-Zag Theory is 118-124-6 ATS (49%) in game 2's, including a 4-4 tally so far this season.
For game 3, the system says back the home team, regardless of the outcome of the prior contest, perhaps for reasons similar to the thinking for how to bet game 1.
Yet again, history does not validate this thinking.
Home teams are 110-111-3 ATS in playoff series game 3's, since 2004.
With that said, there are spots where we have observed value with the Zig-Zag Theory's prescription for the third installment of post-season matchups. In particular, divisional game 3's, early in playoff proceedings have tended to adhere to Salinas' script for home teams with post-season familiarity.
Teams with prior, recent post-season experience and who are slated as home favorites in game 3's have proven solidly profitable wagers historically.
Despite a small sample size, this angle has delivered a 33% long-term return on investment (statistically significant at better than the 90% confidence level).
Plays on both the Lakers and Trail Blazers Thursday are triggered for this system. L.A. is coming off a bounce-back win and cover in the Valley of the Sun Tuesday, after laying an egg in game 1 two days prior.
This system is 3-0 ATS when the game 3 host team is riding a one-game win streak.
Separately, the Blazers beat the Nuggets by double-digits Saturday, then lost by a similarly wide margin Monday.
This approach is 5-1 ATS when the home team is on one-game losing streak going into a playoff game 3.