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Going Streaking

Posted by Neil Paine on November 10, 2008

Through last night's games, the only undefeated teams in the league are the Lakers and the surprising Hawks (both 5-0), while the Clippers' win against Dallas means that the NBA's lone remaining winless team is the Gilbert Arenas-less Washington Wizards at 0-5.

As far as season-opening streaks go, these are fairly unremarkable runs. Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, at least one team has started the season 5-0 78.1% of the time (25 times in 32 seasons). The exact same rate goes for losing streaks: at least one team has gone 0-5 to start the new season 25 times since the merger. Small streaks like these occur all the time during the course of the year -- they just appear to have more significance right now because they happen to have begun on opening night.

Not all season-opening streaks are small or insignificant, though. In the history of the NBA, only 12 teams have run up a winning streak of 10 or more games to start the year:

    Year    Team                              Wins
    1957-58 Boston Celtics                      14
    1964-65 Boston Celtics                      11
    1972-73 Boston Celtics                      10
    1982-83 Seattle Supersonics                 12
    1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers              11
    1993-94 Houston Rockets                     15
            Seattle Supersonics                 10
    1996-97 Chicago Bulls                       12
    1997-98 Atlanta Hawks                       11
            Los Angeles Lakers                  11
    2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers                  10
    2002-03 Dallas Mavericks                    14

Meanwhile, only 10 teams have rung in the new campaign with double-digit losing streaks:

    Year    Team                            Losses
    1970-71 Cleveland Cavaliers                 15
    1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers                  15
    1974-75 New Orleans Jazz                    11
    1982-83 Houston Rockets                     10
    1988-89 Miami Heat                          17
    1994-95 Los Angeles Clippers                16
    1996-97 Phoenix Suns                        13
    1997-98 Denver Nuggets                      12
    1998-99 Los Angeles Clippers                17
    2002-03 Memphis Grizzlies                   13

Not coincidentally, the current stage of the 2008-09 season is just about the time when these early streaks start to fall apart. Since the NBA's inception, here's a breakdown of how often the longest season-opening winning streak lasts:

Wins    #Teams   Freq
<3      1        1.7%
3       8       13.6%
4       13      22.0%
5       5        8.5%
6       3        5.1%
7       8       13.6%
8       7       11.9%
9       4        6.8%
10      2        3.4%
11      3        5.1%
12      2        3.4%
13      0        0.0%
14      2        3.4%
15      1        1.7%

Here's the same distribution, but for season-opening losing skids:

Losses  #Teams   Freq
<3      5        8.5%
3       4        6.8%
4       10      16.9%
5       12      20.3%
6       2        3.4%
7       8       13.6%
8       2        3.4%
9       5        8.5%
10      1        1.7%
11      1        1.7%
12      1        1.7%
13      2        3.4%
14      0        0.0%
15      3        5.1%

As you can see, the vast majority of season-opening streaks end by the time 8 or 9 games roll around, with only historic streaks breaking into double-digit territory. In other words, the current streaks of the Lakers, Hawks, and Clippers may look rather ordinary this morning, but we could be witnessing something pretty unusual if they're still intact a week from today.

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5 Responses to “Going Streaking”

  1. Ben Says:

    Interesting. The table might be more instructive if the the percentages were cumulative.

  2. Neil Paine Says:

    I can do that:

    Wins    #Teams   p(C)
    <3      1        1.7%
    3       8       15.3%
    4       13      37.3%
    5       5       45.8%
    6       3       50.8%
    7       8       64.4%
    8       7       76.3%
    9       4       83.1%
    10      2       86.4%
    11      3       91.5%
    12      2       94.9%
    13      0       94.9%
    14      2       98.3%
    15      1      100.0%
    16      3      100.0%
  3. mark Says:

    I really liked your article. Very informative. Keep up the good work.

  4. Kev Fisher Says:

    I found your website browsing google and read a few of your other articles too. I've just added you to my yahoo rss Reader. Just wanted to say" keep up the good work" and congrats on a job well done!

  5. conan Says:

    I really liked your article. Very informative. Keep up the good work.