Checking in with the NBA zig zag theory 

April, 27, 2010

I was at a party Saturday night in New Jersey. Randomly, I started talking to a guy who also happened to be from Chicago. He was way too excited about the Chicago Bulls beating the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night and had convinced himself it was now a series. Kind of. "I honestly believe the Bulls have a 5 percent chance of winning this thing."

We were eating some killer mini burgers with mushrooms on the softest little buns you've ever squeezed. I didn't go five minutes without having one in my hand. But I had to put down my plate to bring this poor guy -- a pediatric pulmonologist -- back to earth. "You're a smart guy," I said. "But the Bulls are going to lose this game by 25 points."

I was close. They lost by 23. Now, my take had nothing to do with LeBron James or Joakim Noah. I based it entirely on the zig zag theory (If you need a reminder of what that is, go here.) In that world, a good game is just as likely to portend disaster as it does momentum. "Zig zag is such an important part of playoff handicapping," says Vegas vet Erin Rynning. "Practically every side play I make is with the zig zag in mind."

Forget being an NBA fan. And forget even being a hardcore bettor. If you're someone who finds pop psychology, the function of groupthink and how a small gaggle of people can dictate decisions, then you have to love the zig zag theory of betting during the NBA playoffs.