The Zig-Zag Theory is a betting system many handicappers follow that applies to all NHL and NBA best-of-seven playoff series that use the 2-2-1-1-1 format.
It is named the Zig-Zag Theory for its propensity of momentum shifting between the home and road teams based on how each performed in the previous game. The idea is that each game in a playoff series is affected by the result of the game that preceded it.
NBA Zig-Zag Theory
Due to the much stronger home-court advantage in basketball, the value on a road team that loses Game 1 is not as apparent until Game 3, as road teams that lose the series opener bounce back to win the next game roughly a third of the time.
However, if the road team wins Game 1, typically in an upset as an underdog, the home favorite is a very strong bet to rebound, historically winning around 75 percent of the time in that scenario.
But when the higher-seeded team leads the series 2-0 and must go on the road for Game 3, this is the perfect spot to bet the lower-seeded team that is now playing at home.
Because no team has ever come back from a 3-0 series deficit in NBA history, the desperation that sets in for the team down 2-0 is a huge boost. Despite losing the first two games, the lower-seeded team wins outright in Game 3 more than 60 percent of the time.
NHL Zig-Zag Theory
Home ice is not nearly as much of an edge in the NHL. If the home team wins Game 1, the lower-seeded road team will generally win Game 2 more than one-third of the time.
Considering that Game 2 will feature a higher-seeded team at home coming off a win, the public is sure to love betting the favorite at home to win again, which often provides great value on an upset that happens roughly once in every three games.
With hockey and basketball, like in all sports, there is no greater motivator than the fear of elimination. As desperation sets in, playoff teams often take their performance to the next level, making the team coming off a loss a great bet in both the NBA and NHL.
This is exactly why so many successful handicappers and bettors subscribe to the Zig-Zag Theory and follow it closely every year when wagering from game to game.