Sunday, March 31, 2013

Aftermath of Heat Streak

Bill Simmons offers a lengthy postmortem on the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak, which ended last Wednesday in Chicago.

UPDATE (4/4/2013): Arturo Galletti offers a statistical comparison of the three longest NBA winning streaks in history (1971-72 Lakers' 33 games, 2012-13 Heat's 27, and 2007-08 Rockets' 22). Conditions faced by these teams, such as difficulty of opposition during the respective streaks, were not necessarily equal. Therefore, Galletti looks at power-rankings, among other stats, to try to quantify the impressiveness of the three streaks.

Friday, March 29, 2013

NHL: Penguins Win 14th Straight

The Pittsburgh Penguins won their 14th straight game last night, shutting out the Winnipeg Jets, 4-0. Three of the 14 games were tied after regulation play, with the Pens winning two of them during the five-minute sudden-death overtime period and one in the post-overtime shoot-out (game-by-game log).

The longest winning streak in league history is also held by the Penguins franchise, as the 1992-93 squad won 17 straight. Looking at the Penguins' 1992-93 game-by-game log, we see that the winning streak occurred from March 9-April 10, 1993, and that two of the wins occurred in overtime.

Five-minute overtime was introduced in 1983-84, which meant games could still end as ties. Shoot-outs to determine a winner, if the overtime period had not, began in 2005-06 (click here for a history of hockey overtime rule changes).

In the pre-overtime era, in which games could end as ties after 60 minutes, the NHL record winning streak was 15 games by the 1981-82 New York Islanders (January 21-February 20, 1982). Arguably, the Islanders' streak is more impressive than the '92-'93 Penguins' streak, due to the overtime rule changes. Had the rules in '92-'93 been such that deadlocked games after regulation been entered into the books as ties, the Penguins would have won only 12 straight.

UPDATE:  The Penguins extended their winning streak to 15 games, but then lost 4-1 to Buffalo on April 2.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Miami Heat Winning Streak Ended at 27 Games

With the Chicago Bulls' 101-97 victory over Miami last night, the Heat's winning streak has fallen six short of the NBA record 33-game mark set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

My primary impression from the Heat-Bulls game is that Miami never got the late barrage of three-point shots that had carried it to victories in other games during the streak. The Heat shot only 7-of-20 for the game from behind the arc. Four of these made shots occurred in the second half.

Miami did experience a little boomlet of three-point success late in the third quarter, when it was either tying or taking a one-point lead in the game. According to the play-by-play sheet, Mario Chalmers hit a three with 5:31 remaining in the third, followed by a pair of Shane Battier treys at the 4:30 and 2:25 marks of the third. What followed were seven straight Miami misses from downtown, until Chris Bosh made a three with just five seconds left in the game.

Contrast the Heat's poor three-point shooting at Chicago with how Miami had done while winning some of its most recent games during the streak:
  • Against Orlando (win number 27), the Heat went 7-of-10 from long distance in the final 15 minutes of the game.
  • Against Cleveland (win 24), Miami hit 6-of-7 treys during a fourth-quarter stretch in scoring an amazing comeback win.
  • Four three-pointers in roughly a two-minute span helped Miami put away Toronto (win 22).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Comparing This Year's Miami Heat (27 Straight Wins) to the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers (33 Straight Wins)

Having increased its winning streak to 27 games Monday night, the Miami Heat is now within reasonable striking distance of the NBA record 33-game winning streak of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

The Heat has had to come back from some pretty big second-half deficits, such as 27 points to Cleveland midway through the third quarter and 13 points to Boston with 8:26 left in the fourth. Nothing has come easy for Miami. Even the lowly Charlotte Bobcats, owners of the NBA's worst record (currently 16-54, .229) jumped out to a 19-8 lead over the Heat last Sunday, before Miami came back and took control.

In a previous posting, I noted that, in contrast to this year's Heat, the 1971-72 Lakers rarely seemed to have trouble during their 33-game streak. However, that conclusion was based only on final margins of victory, without taking into account the possibility that the Lakers struggled early in games and only pulled away toward the end.

I have now gone back and looked at the Lakers' 1971-72 game-by-game log, to get more detail on each of the team's games during the streak. Specifically, I checked the quarter-by-quarter line score, which is part of the box score for each game. To take an example, in the Lakers' December 3, 1971 game at Philadelphia, which was L.A.'s 16th win during the streak, the line score of points per quarter read as follows (I added the cumulative score at the end of each period in parentheses).

1st 2nd 3rd 4th Final Score
Lakers 19 39 (58) 36 (94) 37 (131) 131
76ers 30 39 (69) 24 (93) 23 (116) 116

I then plotted the Lakers' leads or deficits at the end of each quarter, for each game during the streak. Also, to get an idea of how L.A. did against opponents of varying quality, I made separate plots for games against top-tier (.537 winning percentage and above), middle-tier (.439-.512), and bottom-tier (the expansion Buffalo, Cleveland, and Portland clubs, all of which finished last in their respective divisions) opponents, based on teams' records in the preceding, 1970-71 season. (The Lakers did not play against the Cincinnati Royals, who were .402 in 1970-71, during the streak.)

As the first graph shows, in games during the streak against top opponents, the Lakers tended to hold modest leads after the first quarter, which they gradually expanded over the course of the game. The bottom curve represents the above-described Philly game, in which L.A. trailed by 11 points after the first and second quarters, led by 1 after three quarters, and won by 15. The one game touching the break-even point (red line) after four quarters was a December 10, 1971 overtime win over Phoenix, the Lakers' 20th win during the streak. In that game, the Lakers failed to hold a 12-point lead over the Suns after three quarters. The box score shows Wilt Chamberlain going 0-for-6 from the free-throw line overall; if some of those attempts took place in the fourth quarter, that could explain Phoenix's comeback.

Against mid-tier opponents, the Lakers did have some first-half difficulties, but usually led after three quarters.

Finally, against bottom-tier/recent-expansion opponents, the Lakers generally did not win by blow-out. The Buffalo Braves (now the L.A. Clippers), in particular, gave the Lakers trouble in the first and second quarters. The 1971-72 Lakers thus were similar to this year's Miami Heat in sometimes facing early deficits against weak competition.

Why is margin of victory important? In addition to the coronary health of Heat fans, margin of victory affects the team's ability to give LeBron James and other top players some rest time. As I showed in a previous posting, it appears that "James gets three and one-half extra minutes of rest when the Heat is winning handily."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Heat Keeps Winning, Nuggets Lose, and Other News

The Miami Heat has now won 27 straight games, just six shy of tying the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers' NBA-record winning streak of 33 games. The Heat is next in action Wednesday at Chicago.

However, the Denver Nuggets didn't fare so well in their attempt to extend their 15-game winning streak, falling 110-86 to New Orleans.


Women's collegiate hockey doesn't get a lot of attention here on the Hot Hand website. However, the University of Minnesota squad definitely made news yesterday, winning its second straight NCAA title and, in the process, its 49th straight game. This season's Gophers went 41-0, building upon the eight straight wins with which the 2011-12 team finished the season.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bizarre Game Sends Heat Win Streak to 24

 The Miami Heat pulled off its greatest Houdini act yet in extending its winning streak to 24 games with a 98-95 win tonight in Cleveland. Hot fourth-quarter shooting has become a Miami trademark of late, and tonight was no different.

The Cavaliers -- one of the weaker teams in the league to begin with -- were missing three key players, but they somehow managed to build a 27-point lead, 67-40, with 7:43 left in the third quarter. The Heat then went on a 28-7 run to cut the deficit to 74-68, before a Cleveland three-pointer to end the period made it 77-68 (see play-by-play sheet).

The Heat opened the final stanza on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 77-all and then scored another 18 points (to the Cavs' 9), so that Miami had a 95-86 lead with 3:01 left in the game. Miami's 27-9 run was powered by a stretch of 6-of-7 shooting from three-point range (three consecutive treys from LeBron James before he missed one, followed by two from Ray Allen, and one from Mario Chalmers).  

One might have expected the Heat to win going away at that point, but the Cavs fought to within 96-95 with 44 seconds remaining and had some chances to win or tie the game in the closing seconds.

Next up for Miami: The Detroit Pistons come to south Florida on Friday night.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Miami Again Turns Up Heat in Fourth Quarter, Beats Boston for 23rd Straight Win

A big fourth-quarter run has become the Miami Heat's modus operandi of late, as the team's winning streak has now reached 23 games, the second longest in NBA history. After using a 28-4 spurt Sunday to finish off Toronto, the Heat needed a big comeback at Boston Monday night -- and got it.

Trailing 96-83 to the Celtics with 8:26 left in the game, LeBron James hit a three, kicking off a 9-0 Miami spurt to cut the deficit to 96-92. After a Boston trey, the Heat went on a 9-1 run to take a 101-100 lead with 2:40 left. Things were tight the rest of the way, with a long two-point jumper by James putting the Heat ahead 105-103 with 10 seconds left. The lead stood, as a final Celtic three-point attempt bounced off the rim. Click here for the fourth quarter play-by-play sheet.

According to a chart accompanying's game article, Miami's 17-point deficit in the first half last night was the team's largest during the streak. The Heat also has faced deficits of 16, 14, and 11 during the streak.


Not many games during the streak have gone to the wire, but when they have, James has come through with game-winning shots. Not only last night, but also in a 97-96 win over Orlando on March 6, did he score the go-ahead points. Where does James rank among the league's best "clutch" players?

The website 82 Games keeps various kinds of statistics on clutch performance. For the most recent full season of available data (2011-12), on one measure of performance under pressure, namely point-production per 48 minutes of "clutch time," James ranked 17th in the league. On another measure, shooting percentage on potential game-winning shots (based on statistics through 2009), James's .340 ranked behind several players, including Carmelo Anthony (.481) and Ray Allen (.385).

Historically, James has shown the ability to take over a game completely down the stretch. The 82 Games statistics may take account of this somewhat, but not totally.


The Heat is not the only NBA team with a long winning streak. The Denver Nuggets won their 12th straight last night.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Heat Uses 28-4 Spurt vs. Toronto to Advance Winning Streak to 22

With yesterday's 108-91 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the Miami Heat extended its winning streak to 22 games, tying for the second-longest such streak in NBA history. The key to Miami's win over Toronto was explosiveness based on three-point shooting. It's a familiar theme for the Heat, which used success from behind the arc to win the NBA finals last year.

Going back to yesterday's win, the Heat ran off a 28-4 spurt in roughly a six and one-half minute segment of the fourth quarter to put away the Raptors. Based on the fourth-quarter play-by-play sheet, I have charted all field-goal and free-throw attempts by both teams during this stretch in the following graphic (which you may click to enlarge). The graphic attempts to depict time (minutes left shown in grey), team (Miami orange, Toronto purple), shot distance (length of bars, see legend below), and shot success (upper-half represents "good," and lower-half, missed shots), all at a glance.

Above the white horizontal line, the solid shapes for made shots are far more prevalent for Miami (orange) than for Toronto (purple). Ray Allen's burst of made three-pointers at the 6:37, 6:07, and 5:09 marks is highlighted, as are Toronto's mere four points. Below the white line, in contrast, the outlined shapes for missed shots are far more prevalent for Toronto than Miami. For whatever reason, the Raptors were not getting (or choosing to take) shots near the bucket, as all their field-goal attempts during the stretch were long two-pointers and three-pointers. 

The Heat has a quick turnaround, facing the Celtics in Boston tonight.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Texas Tech Pitcher Trey Masek: 32 Straight Innings Without Allowing a Run

Texas Tech pitcher Trey Masek has pitched 32 innings so far this college-baseball season without giving up a run: six innings against BYU, nine each vs. UConn and LaSalle, and eight against the University of Texas-Arlington (clicking on the opponent's name will take you to the play-by-play sheet for that game). The following graphic (which you may click to enlarge), shows threats Masek has faced (e.g., runners on second and third with two out) by game and inning.

I've incorporated into the chart an important element, namely the likelihood of a batting team scoring at least one run for a given outs/runners situation. These probabilities come from the Boyd's World college-baseball statistics website, based on huge amounts of Division I data from 2011-2012. For example, in Masek's very first inning of the season, vs. BYU, he allowed the Cougars to have runners on first and second with no outs. The average team, based on the Boyd's World statistics, would have a 71% probability of scoring at least one run in that scenario. Yet Masek got out of the jam. Masek has faced six situations thus far in which the opponents had a 47% or better chance of scoring (which includes two instances of opponents having scoring probabilities in the 70s).

The closest Masek has come to giving up a run was when a UConn batter hit a single with a runner on second in the seventh inning; the runner was thrown out at the plate.

Though Masek has seen his share of dicey situations this season, he finally seemed to get on a roll in the UT-Arlington game, “retiring the final 19 batters he faced.”

The NCAA Division I record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched within the same season is 47, by Todd Helton of the University of Tennessee in 1994. Helton, of course, went on to a long and productive major-league career as a first-basemen for the Colorado Rockies. There was one longer streak that carried over from one season to the next, with George Plender of Vermont putting 60 straight zeroes on the scoreboard in a span that encompassed the 1954 and '55 seasons.

Masek's next scheduled outing is Saturday afternoon against Texas in Austin, as Big 12 conference play begins.

UPDATE: Masek gave up a run in the first inning to the Longhorns, ending his scoreless pitching streak at 32 innings. However, he quickly resumed his old way, shutting out Texas in the remaining innings he pitched (the second through eighth innings). Hey, one run allowed in 40 innings isn't bad! 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

LeBron James's Minutes Played During Heat Streak

A theme I've discussed in writing about basketball winning streaks is that, the more the streaking team can blow out opponents, the more it can rest its star players. With the Miami Heat's winning streak now at 20 games after last night's victory in Philadelphia, I decided to examine LeBron James's minutes played in each game during the streak.

As seen in the following graph, I divided the games into those the Heat won by single-digit and double-digit margins. (I included the Heat's double-overtime 141-129 win over Sacramento as a single-digit game, as the game would have been close down the stretch.) Another factor that may affect James's (and other NBA stars') minutes played is opportunity for rest between games. Accordingly, I divided games into three categories: first game of two on back-to-back days; second game of a back-to-back; and at least one off-day before and after the game. Here are James's average minutes played as a function of win-margin and game-scheduling.

A couple of trends are apparent in the graph. First, if we look at the yellow (off-days before and after) and black (second game of back-to-back) lines, James gets three and one-half extra minutes of rest when the Heat is winning handily. (The difference is even greater for the white line, representing first games of back-to-back situations, but there is only one observation for single-digit games of this type.) Also, regardless of victory margin, James plays about two minutes fewer in second games of back-to-back scenarios than in games surrounded by off-days. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Heat Wave Has Miami Winning Streak at 18 Games

The Miami Heat won its 18th straight game last night, routing the Indiana Pacers, 105-91. Among all-time win streaks, Miami now ties for the seventh-longest in NBA history and eclipses a 17-game run by the Los Angeles Clippers earlier this season. The second-longest all-time NBA win streak, 22 games by the 2007-08 Houston Rockets, is certainly within reach, whereas it will take something extra special for the Heat to approach the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers' NBA record 33-game winning streak.

Though a comparison to the Lakers' record is admittedly premature, I find it instructive to compare their margins of victories during the 1971-72 streak to Miami's during its current run. By routing opponents, a team can rest its star players, keeping them fresh for the long grind of a streak. As I documented in this retrospective on the Lakers' streak, they won 23 of the 33 games (70%)  by double-digits. As shown in the following little chart that I made, the Heat has won 10 of the 18 games in its streak by double-digits (56%).

As a further sign of how little the 1971-72 Lakers were challenged during their streak, they won 32 of the 33 games in the streak by four points or more in regulation; the one exception was an overtime game. Miami has had two close calls: a one-point win over Orlando (97-96) on March 6 when LeBron James made a layup in the final seconds and a Feb. 26 double-overtime game against Sacramento, which the Heat ultimately won handily, 141-129 (Heat game-by-game log).

Looking at the near term, Miami's next five opponents are the teams that rank 6-10 in the Eastern Conference standings (winning percentages in parentheses):

Tuesday, March 12, vs. Atlanta (.548)

Wednesday, March 13, at Philadelphia  (.371)

Friday, March 15, at Milwaukee (.525)

Sunday, March 17, at Toronto (.391)

Monday, March 18, at Boston (.548)

A sweep of these five games would give the Heat 23 straight wins and the second-longest win streak in NBA history. Although none of the NBA's elite teams of the current season (e.g., Oklahoma City, San Antonio) appear during this upcoming stretch, there are three reasons for Miami fans to be concerned: five games in seven days make for a tiring stretch, four of the games are on the road, and the Heat and Celtics have an intense rivalry, going back to last season's seven-game conference finals, so you know Boston will be ready a week from today!

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Blackhawks' Undefeated Streak in Regulation Time Comes to End

The Chicago Blackhawks' season-opening streak of 24 games without a regulation-time loss ended last night in a 6-2 defeat at Colorado. (NHL teams normally would have played more than 24 games by now, but the current season was shortened by an owners' lockout.) During these 24 games, the Blackhawks won 14 games in regulation and seven games after the regulation 60 minutes ended in a tie (either in the five-minute sudden-death overtime period or in a shootout after a scoreless OT). Chicago also lost three games in shootouts after tying in regulation (click here for Hawks' 2013 game-by-game log).

In fact, Chicago finished the 2011-12 regular season with no regulation losses in its final six games, putting the combined-season streak at 30 games. The 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers hold the record at 35 games (25 wins, 10 ties, with no overtime then). In the following table, I list all 30 of the Blackhawks' undefeated regulation games.

(@ = Away)
Score After
Hawks' OT Result
(If Applicable)
2012 (Last Season) ...
@New Jersey 1-1 Lost 2-1 in shootout
St. Louis 3-3 Won 4-3 in shootout
@Nashville 5-4 ...
Minnesota 4-4 Lost 5-4 in shootout
@Minnesota 1-1 Lost 2-1 in shootout
@Detroit 2-2 Won 3-2 in shootout
2013 (This Season) ...
@L.A. 5-2 ...
@Phoenix 6-4 ...
St. Louis 3-2 ...
@Dallas 2-2 Won 3-2 in 5-min. OT
@Columbus 3-2 ...
Detroit 1-1 Won 2-1 in 5-min OT
@Minnesota 2-2 Lost 3-2 in shootout
@Vancouver 1-1 Lost 2-1 in shootout
@Calgary 2-2 Won 3-2 in shootout
@San Jose 5-3 ...
@Phoenix 6-2 ...
@Nashville 3-0 ...
Anaheim 2-2 Lost 3-2 in shootout
San Jose 4-1 ...
L.A. 3-2 ...
Vancouver 3-3 Won 4-3 in shootout
San Jose 2-1 ...
Columbus 1-0 ...
Edmonton 2-2 Won 3-2 in 5-min OT
@St. Louis 3-0 ...
Columbus 3-3 Won 4-3 in 5-min OT
@Detroit 1-1 Won 2-1 in shootout
Minnesota 5-3 ...
Colorado 3-2 ...
@Colorado 2-6 END OF STREAK

Typically, teams that go on long streaks of success blow away most of their opponents -- a sign of their superior talent and coaching -- and perhaps rely on luck in a few games to keep their streaks alive. One example is the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who won 33 straight NBA basketball games. Other than one overtime game, the Lakers always won by at least four points during the streak. Further, 23 of the 33 wins were by double digits.

Although a direct comparison of basketball and hockey is necessarily imprecise, the Blackhawks clearly did not annihilate many opponents during their 30-game regulation undefeated streak. In only eight of the 30 games did regulation play end with Chicago ahead by two or more goals. Counting only regulation time during the 30 games, the Blackhawks averaged 2.90 goals per game, whereas their opponents averaged 1.93, a difference of less than a goal per game. In this way, Chicago's streak was an unusual one.