“Hot Streaks, Probability and Statistics” by Dennis Trotter Jr.


I am writing about the aspect of hot streaks in David Brooks article “The Philosophy of Data.” He states “Every person who plays basketball and nearly every person who watches it believes that players go through  hot streaks, when they are in the groove and  cold streaks, when they are just not feeling it”. Through my research, I have found that it’s more complicated than just whether if a player is feeling it or not, and that there are many other factors which come into play; the period of a “Hot streak,” for a player is more related to consistently winning and the winning streaks for the team during that period, than just the input from that one player.

I have ascertained from data collected from the statistics of five teams, who consistently won and have had long winning streaks, the fact that players with hot streaks are generated more often, and exist more on those hot teams; the first team the U.C.L.A. Bruins basketball team who won 88 straight games between 1971 and 1974, the second team the New England Patriots football team who won 18 straight games between 2003 and 2004, the third team the UCONN women’s basketball team won 90 games straight between November 2008 and December 2010, the fourth team the Miami Heat basketball team won 27 straight games between February and March or this year, and finally the New York Knicks basketball team who had an 13 game winning streak just recently.

In the case of the men’s U.C.L.A. basketball team, they had several strong players, and if one didn’t play well in a game the rest of the team took up the slack. The dominance and confidence level they built during the streak was high, that along with their intense game plan, gave all the players more chances to be hot when they could, and if not, then other members of the team could take that occasion and try to get hot and keep the team’s winning streak going.

In the case of the New England football team, their quarter back Tom Brady, who you could say was hot during New England’s winning streak, had his heat turned down by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLll where the win streak was broken in a 17-14 loss. They found a way to beat the Giants in their final game of the regular season, but that win led the Giants to better prepare for a possible rematch in the Super Bowl, which ironically took place that season, by formulating a defensive plan for that game in which they prevented Brady from getting hot. This is more evidence that a player cannot have a forum for being hot unless his or the opposing team affords him one.

In the case of the UCONN woman’s basketball team, one player Maya Moore can be considered to be a key component in the win streak. She played an overall role; offense and defense that contributed heavily in all the wins. She was not the leading scorer in all the games during the streak, the rest of the team bonded around her and played their best because of the confidence and discipline Moore displayed. In the game that ended the streak Moore began her scoring late in the first half, the rest of the team didn’t have her good play or another leader to motivate them that day, and this eventually led to the lost. I don’t believe being hot or not contributed to the loss; she had slow starts in games previous to that one, and the team just filled in until she heated up, they could not do that in the game that broke the streak.

In the case of the Miami Heat basketball team, the number of dominate players on the team was a big help in establishing their win streak. I personally watched most of the games live. When all your players produce at a high rate, it doesn’t really matter if one or two are hot, the total sum of points is always going to be high, but it does allow for a player to become more comfortable and find those hot streaks more often. In the game that ended the streak, they ran into a Chicago Bull’s team who played good defense and found a way to keep those Miami stars from getting very hot, while they were putting the heat on Miami.

In the case of the New York Knicks basketball team, I also had the benefit of watching the games live, the players for the team were more consistent with their play, good defense and ball movement, it was more  of the cohesiveness of the team than just the players being hot. Again here good play leads to a comfort state that promotes winning and hot streaks. In the game in which the streak was ended, I noticed something else related to streaks; they played the Chicago Bulls, the same team who ended Miami’s 27 game winning streak, the Knicks were visually tired by the fourth quarter after big runs of high scoring at the beginning of both half’s. They expended themselves and did not have the stamina to match the Chicago run in the fourth quarter. It was obvious some Knick players were so called hot and feeling it, but in the end a lack of energy was their downfall. No matter how hot you are, a lack of stamina will be a big negative.

In all five cases, the opportunities for a player to go on a hot streak increased greatly when their team was winning, everyone one on a team believes that the team can win, and they want to win! Why would they play the game if this wasn’t true? It’s the team’s cohesion and dedication towards a good work ethic and game planning in that sport that determines who’s going to be hot or not and how much it leads to winning. Without a winning spirit it’s hard to be on a hot streak night in and night out. Being hot needs something to be built on; winning is the perfect ingredient.

Let’s look at LeBron James, who before Miami played for Cleveland. He played well in Cleveland and was considered to be on a hot streak most of the time, but he was unhappy because they didn’t win a championship and he had no problem expressing that. When he jumped ship, making Cleveland fans very unhappy, he went to Miami were more superstars were assembled with him, and where winning has led to a championship, he has now reached a potential point for a permanent hot streak, just as Michael Jordan did with the Bulls.

Michael Jordan in his physical prime was as accustomed to playing basketball as the rest of the world was to eating and drinking. How can anyone account for or calculate the fact that he had other players on his team, some of them had been in the league for years, playing at a level that they never reached before; playing their best, “just like Mike,” to so many championships?

I would now like to say something about my main argument against any connection between human actions, and probability and statistics. People have not and never will be able to be analyzed to predict future actions; it is a natural human reaction of emotion for any given event presented at a particular time! This can change from minute to minute.

Even though we are only somewhat discrete with our emotions, we can find better ways to deal with any situation; no matter if they produce good or bad inputs to our brains reaction center, by focusing on trying not to put ourselves in situations of possible stress. One good way of avoiding stress is by completing all tasks set for you on any day, and completing them in a timely fashion. The stress of feeling that you are late, and you might miss out on something is false and created by you alone; as you rush to complete your task, the people you are dealing as you go along may not know you are late and  quite frankly probably don’t care. You’re late, and only you had the power to change that.

I do agree with the point made by David Brooks about the making a foul shot either after making or missing several of them before. I believe a player has the same chance of making a foul shot every time, the factors involved are the physical and mental conditioning at the time they shoot. Putting in the proper focus and energy are the determinants. The same factors which dictate a winning streak, which is a major factor of hot streaks. It has very little to do with probability and statistics! Data for a player or a team has to be collected for some time, years, before it can be constructed to give possibilities for game play, but it may not be accurate because it can’t predict how a player might feel that day and how it will affect his play. I certainly would not use that data to place a bet.



“The Philosophy of Data” by David Brooks New York Times, February 4, 2013

“Miami Heat Winning Streak by the Numbers” Kurt Badenhausen Forbs Magazine March 28, 2013  http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2013/03/28/miami-heat-win-streak-by-the-numbers/

“Timeline of the Miami Heat’s Winning Streak” New York Times March 28, 2013

“Miami Heat’s winning streak ends at 27 in Chicago” Andrew Seligman Time Magazine March 27, 2013


“Connecticut woman’s basketball 90-game winning streak snapped by No- 9 Stanford in 71-59 defeat” Associated Press December 31, 2010 http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/college/connecticut-women-basketball-90-game-win-streak-snapped-9-stanford-71-59-defeat-article-1.471214

“Connecticut Huskies’ 90-Game Win Streak” ESPNW December 5. 2012 http://espn.go.com/ncw/topics/_/page/uconn-huskies-win-streak

“UCONN Woman Own the Longest Streak” Jere Longman December 25, 2010   http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/sports/ncaabasketball/22uconn.html

“Game By Game: The UCLA winning streak, from 1 to 88” Tom Hoffarth December 19, 2010 Daily News Los Angeles http://www.dailynews.com/sports/ci_16898177

“Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End” Book Review by Frumi Rachel Barr MBA, Ph.D. – Executive Coach, Break through Consulting http://breakthroughconsulting.com/executive_coaches.html




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1 Response to “Hot Streaks, Probability and Statistics” by Dennis Trotter Jr.

  1. Pablo Lara says:

    Nice point of views and statistics. Good use of references as well, but I liked the example of LeBron James and the idea that a winning team usually leads to “hot streaks”. Check for some grammar and spelling on a few sentences.

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