Tom Archer's Blog

Windows and Web developer with Social Media tendencies

Winning Streaks – Part One

While this might be yet another indicator of me getting old, I could swear that there was an expression I heard as a child that went something like “whenever a team on a winning streak stubs its toe, it almost always falls on its face”. Come to think of it, if that was the expression, it’s pretty easy to see why it didn’t take. It’s not exactly pithy. At any rate, the point of the (possibly mythical) expression – and this post – is that I find it amazing that when an individual or team goes on a long winning streak and then finally loses, they almost always lose a second straight regardless of the relative strength of the second opponent. I find this amazing as logically I would think that the individual or team would bounce back – especially if the second opponent is much weaker – and return to playing at the same level that resulted in the winning streak.

One example of this is the NBA Houston Rockets who won 22 consecutive games during the 2007/2008 season.  Once the second longest winning streak in the history of the NBA was finally stopped by the Boston Celtics, the Rockets then lost to the New Orleans Hornets. While hardly a major upset considering that the Hornets ended the campaign as the second seeded Western Conference team, what’s noteworthy is that after a month of incredible play, the Rockets played terribly in the second loss. The Rockets then went back to their winning ways by capturing 3 out of their next 4 games.

The 2008/2009 NBA season offers us another example where the Boston Celtics made their pitch for immortality in a pursuit of the almost inconceivable 33-game winning streak of the 1971/1972 Los Angeles Lakers. The men in green ran their streak to 19 games before bowing to the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day 2008. They then served up a real turkey of a game in losing to one of the league’s doormats – the Golden State Warriors, who had won all of 8 games over the first third of the season.

As is often the case, what got me to thinking about this was my own personal experience. I had won 13 straight APA (American Pool Association) 8-ball matches before playing the man who is arguably the best 8-ball player in our league. I played well – not great – and lost by a single shot. The following week, I played someone – who while being very talented – I had defeated all 5 times I had played him previous. As you can probably guess, I played very poorly (relative to how I had been playing for the previous several months) and lost a close match. Once those two losses were out of the way, I played well again and have won my last two matches.

While my situation is on a much less global scale than an NBA team, my experience is an example of what I believe I’ve noticed most of my life as a both a competitor and sports fan. However, all of this is very anecdotal and far from scientific. Therefore, I’m going to write a little code to parse the schedules and results of several major sports in order to determine if this phenomenon actually exists. Once I do that, I’ll post a follow-up article!

(If you have any information on this or pointers to research already being done, please email me – !)

Tom Archer


December 27, 2008 - Posted by | 1

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