Applying the Zig-Zag Theory to the NBA Play-In Tournament
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You’re going to hear a lot about “bouncing back” after losses on all the networks during the NBA Playoffs.
The gambling jargon for this is known as "the zig-zag theory," in which betting on teams to cover off a loss, particularly with the loss early in a series, as our NBA analyst J-Smoove detailed for us earlier last week, becomes a very profitable situation. Essentially, losing teams cannot afford to dig too deep of a hole.
And if the desperation factor applies with teams down 0-1 or 0-2 in a best-of-seven series, it should certainly apply in a one-and-done elimination game, which is what the losing teams of Tuesday night’s Washington @ Boston and Golden State @ Los Angeles contests will find themselves in come Thursday.
In this article we will look ahead at each of these four teams and their regular season series outcomes with the teams they could meet later should they lose on Tuesday. Those two losing teams will play the winner of the 9th/10th seeds in their respective conferences, which we will know by the end of Wednesday night, as the Pacers host the Hornets on Tuesday and the Grizzlies host the Spurs.
Boston Celtics: Brad Stevens’ team went 2-1 ATS and straight-up against both Charlotte and Indiana this season. It’s also worth noting that two of the games the Celtics played against the Hornets this year were decided by 21 and 30 points, respectively, so don’t hesitate to lay points with the Celtics even if the number look too big at first glance in a potential one-and-done/elimination matchup vs. the Hornets.
Zig-Zag Verdict: While there’s a lot of pressure on Boston given their past postseason success, there are still veterans on this roster with an abundance of playoff experience. It could thus be worth trusting the Celtics in a win or go-home spot coming off a potential loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.
Washington Wizards: Yes, the Wizards are playing quite well - particularly on the offensive end of the floor - but remember that they’re still in the play-in round for a reason. Don’t fall in love with them just because Russell Westbrook has been all over SportsCenter for close to a month now while racing to break Oscar Robertson's triple-double record. Washington did go 2-1 ATS and straight-up against Indiana, but they were also 0-3 ATS and just 1-2 straight-up against the Charlotte Hornets during the regular season.
Zig-Zag Verdict: I would NOT trust the Wizards if they lose to Boston on Tuesday. You have to go all the way back to March 27 for the last game in which Washington held an opponent below 100 points. Against Indiana or Charlotte, with the game being played in the nation’s capital, the Wizards are going to be favored as well in a potential elimination matchup here. And while the national media sure would love to see Westbrook go up against his former teammates in Kevin Durant and James Harden in the first round, or even Philadelphia, as Westbrook has had his fair share of altercations with Joel Embiid too, remember the old adage: defense wins championships. Proceed with caution in backing the Wizards this week.
Los Angeles Lakers: LeBron James and Anthony Davis are BACK. They’re the defending champs, sure, but they're also going up against a red-hot Stephen Curry and Golden State. Should the Los Angeles Lakers slip up on Wednesday, their regular season series suggest they’ll still be okay to still secure the eighth seed in the West. Los Angeles went a combined 5-1 straight-up and 3-3 ATS against Memphis and San Antonio this year, and it's worth noting the Lakers were -7.5 favorites or more in all six of those games.
Zig-Zag Verdict: It would be a surprise, but not unfathomable, to see the Lakers lose at home against Golden State and have to put their season on the line against the Grizzlies or Spurs. If we get to that point, however, I would be comfortable laying up to -9.5 points to back the Lakers later in the week in a do-or-die scenario. Just look at how they responded after each of their key losses in the playoffs last year. The Lakers lost Game 1 of the first round against Portland before rallying to win the next four games and cover three of them en route to eliminating the Trail Blazers in five. They lost Game 1 against Houston in the second round, then proceeded to win and cover each of the next four games and eliminate the Rockets in five. Denver’s lone win in the Western Conference Finals came in Game 3, before the Lakers won Games 4 and 5 to advance to the NBA Finals and while going 1-0-1 ATS in those two games. While they lost two games against Miami in the Finals, the Lakers won the following game each time after a loss to the Heat, although they only covered in 1 of those 2 games en route to winning the championship. Nevertheless, you get the idea. When LeBron shifts into playoff mode, he doesn’t lose back-to-back games very often. In this case, we’re confident enough to think the margin would be there to cover as well in a play-in round elimination game. The Lakers are the team I trust the most to bounce back if they lose the 7-8 game.
Golden State Warriors: Doesn’t this kind of feel like the professional version of Steph Curry’s March Madness with Davidson? I understand the Warriors haven’t even won a play-in game yet, but Curry is lighting it up and single-handedly carried this team down the stretch. Golden State had success vs. both Memphis and San Antonio in the regular season as well, going 2-1 straight-up and ATS against each.
Zig-Zag Verdict: Consider this jury one that needs more time to deliberate. The game against the Los Angeles Lakers will really be telling here as to if you want to back the Golden State Warriors in the second game of the play-in round if they lose on Wednesday. A competitive loss in which there’s enough non-Curry offense for the Dubs would likely mean Golden State’s role players would go into the game against the Memphis Grizzlies or the San Antonio Spurs with more confidence. A blowout loss in which Curry struggles from the field, on the other hand, would be a dose of a reality for a Warriors team that was woefully inconsistent for most of the regular season, hence the reason for needing the play-in round.