Series openers are already in the books for the conference championships in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Thursday and Friday bring Game Two in both the West and the East, which means most bettors will be thinking about the zig-zag strategy.
What’s the zig-zag strategy? Here, it simply means betting the Game One loser to bounce back strong and cover the point spread in the second game. Oddsmakers are aware that the prevailing attitude for both sharps (professional bettors) and squares (the general public) is to put “intangibles” in their favor.
As the theory goes…the Game One loser will be angry, motivated, and likely to make adjustments to fix what wasn’t working in the opener. The Game One winner will be prone to let down and lose intensity with an early series lead.
This actually does happen quite a bit in professional sports. But, oddsmakers know all about it and often adjust the line to influence money. Second-round results show that sometimes the bounce back is so strong that there’s not much oddsmakers can do about it.
Let’s start with Thursday night’s game out West, Portland at Golden State (ESPN, 8 p.m.).
▪ Portland lost its second round series opener at Denver, but bounced back strong to score a Game Two upset at altitude by a 97-90 score as a 4-point underdog. That’s a double-digit cover for the zig zag team.
▪ Houston was the bounce-back team at Golden State, after losing the opener. The Rockets just missed getting the money in the next game, losing 115-109 as 5-point underdogs. So far, the zig-zag is 1-1 against the spread.
Now to Friday night’s Eastern Conference showdown between Toronto and Milwaukee (TNT, 7:30 p.m.).
▪ Milwaukee was stunned by Boston in its series opener, then soared over the Celtics 123-102 as favorites of -7.5 points in the bounce-back spot. That was also a double-digit cover. Milwaukee would win and cover its remaining games in that match-up.
▪ Toronto was caught napping in its second game vs. Philadelphia. After winning the series opener, the Raptors fell at home 94-89 as favorites of -7.5 points. Zig zag bettors would have been on the Sixers, scoring another double-digit cover.
All told, that’s 3-1 for zig zag-bettors in the most recent series involving these teams. All three covers were by double digits. The failure was by a single point.
Something for you to think about as you handicap and bet.
▪ Betting markets were fairly confident earlier this week that Milwaukee and Golden State would ultimately win their conferences.
Pre-series prices at the Westgate in Las Vegas showed Golden State at -500 to advance past Portland (bettors had to risk $500 just to earn a $100 profit). The Blazers were +375 on the return (bettors would win $375 for a $100 bet on the upset).
Milwaukee was -330 to get past Toronto…the Raptors returned +260 for underdog bettors.
Westgate’s odds to win the NBA Championship before the conference finals began: Golden State 4/5 (-120), Milwaukee 7/4 (+175), Toronto 7/1 (+700), and Portland 18/1 (+1800).
▪ Not much has changed in PGA Championship odds since we presented them to you last weekend. Serious contender Justin Thomas had to withdraw with an injury. Midweek prices at the Westgate showed: Tiger Woods 10/1, Dustin Johnson 10/1, Brooks Koepka 10/1, Rory McIlroy 12/1, Rickie Fowler 16/1, Jon Rahm 16/1, Justin Rose 18/1, and Jason Day 20/1.
TNT will provide live coverage from the fabled Bethpage Black course Thursday through Sunday. CBS will have third and final round coverage Saturday and Sunday.
▪ Game day pitching changes in Major League Baseball are becoming a problem for betting markets. More and more managers are using “openers” from the bullpen to pitch the first inning. They don’t have to decide a day in advance which guy they’re going to use. Many bettors like formally “listing” the starting pitchers with their bet. That means their bets are fully refunded if the “listed” pitchers don’t make the start.
Sports books don’t like dealing with all the paperwork. Sharps don’t like having bets scratched because of managerial whims. Squares don’t like having to track down the rules on whether they have a bet or not.
This is only going to become a bigger problem. Teams are having success with “openers” in the first inning. Success gets copied. Baseball managers have no obligation to make life easy for oddsmakers. In fact, they gain some benefits by keeping opponents in the dark about which pitcher they’ll see.
For bettors, the best advice is as follows: if you’re making a bet specifically because of the starting pitchers involved, you should definitely list the pitchers. If you’re focused more on the teams, or a special angle that has nothing to do with the starting pitchers…you can just bet “action,” and your bet will stand at prices that are adjusted once starting pitchers are confirmed. Check with your local sports book for more details.