Few would consider Rocky III a cinematic classic, but it did produce a memorable one-on-one moment, when crotchety old trainer Mickey tried to convince his washed-up champ not to step into the ring against Clubber Lang (a.k.a. Mr. T):
Rocky: “Why you doin’ this?”
Mickey: “Because you can’t win, Rock!”
OK, so the exchange doesn’t exactly rival Rhett telling Scarlett that he doesn’t give a damn, or even Mongo knocking out the horse in Blazing Saddles. But it’s definitely a line that’s been rattling around my dome lately. Because, well, because I can’t win, Rock!
Since Tom Brady’s Hail Mary fell harmlessly to the turf in Indianapolis, ending the NFL season and giving me a profitable Super Bowl, I’ve produced a grand total of one positive week. In case you forgot, Super Bowl XLVI was played Feb. 5. We’re talking the final month of the college basketball season, all of March Madness, the second half of the NBA season, the first round of the NBA playoffs—I’ve flopped more in the last 3½ months than Blake Griffin.
Most recently, I offered four first-round NBA playoff predictions. One is still pending. The others? 0-for-3, including a recommendation on Memphis to reach the Western Conference finals (the Grizzlies lost in the first round to the Clippers … the Clippers!).
Clearly, the only thing more worthless than my betting advice is Bryce Harper’s anger-management assistance. Which is why I’m turning things over to someone who actually knows what the hell he’s doing. Herewith are a few key NBA playoff betting strategies from longtime Las Vegas resident and Covers.com handicapper Ted Sevransky. (Fair warning, Teddy: My stink has rubbed off on others who have recently occupied this space, including a monkey who had Memphis winning the NBA title, and horse-racing guru Jeremy Pond, whose thoroughbreds ran like mutts in the Kentucky Derby. Godspeed, my friend …)
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There’s no shame in struggling in the NBA playoffs—Matt’s not exactly the first bettor to have a losing track record in the postseason. Not to brag, but dating to 2008, I have an independently documented 79-52 record (8-5 so far this year) from May 1 through the end of the NBA Finals. That’s better than 60 percent over a three-year-plus stretch, which means some strategies must be working. Consider these three:
1) Be aware of the zigzag theory: This very simple approach is a “must-understand” component of NBA playoff handicapping, and it can be expressed in a single sentence: Bet on the team that lost its last game. The theory behind the theory is simple as well: The team coming off a defeat is likely to dig deep and produce a strong effort, lest they fall into a deeper hole. Meanwhile, the winning team is likely to make fewer adjustments and be a tad complacent heading into the next game.
The betting marketplace respects this theory tremendously. That’s why you’ll normally see a shorter point spread in the first game following a blowout. In addition, you’ll often see the weaker of the two squads favored if they return home down 0-2 in a best-of-7 series. Savvy bettors know that the zigzag theory is going to influence point spreads throughout the postseason.
2) Be aware of flaws in the zigzag theory: The zigzag theory does very well in a competitive series, but it tends to fail when one team has a clear advantage over its opponent. Look no further than the Mavericks’ second-round sweep of the defending champion Lakers last May—a series in which Dallas covered the spread with relative ease in all four games.
The zigzag theory also fails when a team is simply priced incorrectly. Bettors got hammered last spring trying to zigzag against the Mavs, who went 12-1-1 against the spread in their first 14 playoff games on their way to the championship.
Blindly playing the zigzag theory is a 50/50 proposition at best. The key is to identify the competitive series where the zigzag will work, as well as the mismatches where the zigzag is likely to burn you.
3) Don’t overvalue home courts: Playoff teams are here because they can win on the road. The very best teams tend to have winning road records, consistently beating foes in hostile environments. Six of the eight teams to reach the second round this year had regular-season road records at least within a game of .500.
Between them, the eight remaining teams won a dozen first-round games on the highway, notching an aggregate winning ATS mark as well. And a home-court edge tends to lessen later in a series when teams have played several games on each floor—as any Grizzlies supporter with an empty wallet can attest.
PAST RESULTS: 0-4 (-$675); Bankroll: $3,766.