As I was watching the Thunder choke away a game to the Lakers on Sunday, I tried to console the biggest OKC fan I know with some measured statements about how the season is too long and these things happen. After all, the Pacers were in the middle of a three-game skid themselves and these are the types of things you tell yourself when your favorite team is in the middle of a slide.
As the game ended (the Thunder had just lost their fifth game out of their last eight), I told him not to worry because it was possible that the Pacers would lose again, pushing their streak to four straight losses. His response was clear: “No way. Good teams can lose three straight. They never lose four.”
Of course, such an arbitrary statement was based off of purely emotional and anecdotal ideas — but it was troubling how much my gut wanted to agree with it. After all, one of my favorite statistics in the history of statistics is this: From November of 1990 to June of 1998, Michael Jordan never lost three games in a row.
Coaches preach ad nauseam against the perils of losing consecutive games under any circumstances. A few years ago, the sports world marveled when OKC nearly traversed the entire season before losing consecutive games. In mid-December of this season, when the Pacers first lost two straight, I remember feeling deflated — even though the second of those losses was on the road in Miami.
There are all sorts of seemingly significant scenarios that declare “good teams don’t have losing streaks.” And yet, recent history says otherwise.
Since the 2009-10 season, a surprisingly low number of elite teams avoided three-game losing streaks throughout the season. In fact, the only championship-winning team in the last five years that failed to lose three straight at any point in the season was last year’s Miami Heat.
In 2010, the top three regular season teams (Cleveland, the Lakers, and Dallas) each suffered three-game losing streaks throughout the year. The eventual runner-up, the Boston Celtics, actually lost three straight a startling four times from November to April.
In 2011, the Heat and Lakers both had four- and five-game losing streaks. The top-seeded Spurs and eventual NBA-champion Dallas Mavericks each suffered six-game skids.
In the lockout-shortened 2012 season, Miami and Oklahoma City suffered three-game skids at separate points, and last year, the top three seeds from each conference (excluding Miami) all suffered three-game droughts.
Nothing has changed this season. Miami, Oklahoma CIty, and San Antonio have all suffered three-game losing streaks. In a league that is getting bigger, stronger, and faster every single season, it seems to be getting more and more difficult to avoid such pitfalls in the road. Road streaks, back to backs, injuries, and little bits of bad luck here and there can throw a wrench into a season rather easily.
Of course, with these Pacers, there are some causes for alarm.
The Pacers’ defensive efficiency hasn’t been anywhere near it’s expected stellar level in almost three weeks. Paul George and Roy Hibbert have failed to be the consistent day-to-day All-Stars that they were in November and December. The bench woes have gotten worse, and the Evan Turner addition has yet to really prove itself to be positive.
Still, it’s easy to take for granted just how difficult winning can be in the Nationwide Basketball Society.
As disappointing as the defense has been at times recently, Indy was a Klay Thompson game-winner and a Devin Harris throwback game away from going 2-2 in their last four. Perhaps most encouraging was that during Sunday night’s game, we finally saw “the real Pacers” again when Indiana bridged the second and third quarters by unleashing a terrifying 17-2 run on the helpless Mavericks. As the Pacers did their thing, the Mavericks’ commentators gushed openly at the high level of basketball that was being displayed. They even repeatedly mentioned that Dallas had managed to beat Indy a few weeks ago before the All-Star break and that two wins “over this juggernaut” would be incredibly difficult.
Unfortunately, Paul George and Lance Stephenson both picked up their 4th fouls and, just like that, the Pacers lost a little momentum in a tough road game against one of the best coaches in the League. Still, the objective viewpoints of Dallas’ broadcasters offered a refreshing reminder of how good Indy is.
The season is long, my friends. Losing streaks do happen. It’s nothing to get too concerned about yet.
With that said, if the Pacers lose to Boston tonight …